Tag Archives: La Salle

A Singular Privilege to Have Been a Teacher!

at La Salle Secondary School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur

On 14th January 2017, I attended an enjoyable La Salle Secondary School Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, Class of 1969 reunion dinner and fellowship event. Prior to that, a few former teachers and I had received many invitations over the years from various groups to attend their reunion gatherings.

Wherever and whenever possible, I try to attend these wonderful reunion gatherings for a couple of reasons.  If former students still remember me and make it a point to invite me to attend their reunions, then the least that I can do is to return the kind courtesy and join them at the event. The other reason is that we (  former teachers ) must have had a positive, lasting impact and influence on these former students.

Successful but still Down to Earth

Many of these former students, I am pleased to report, are now leading academics, successful entrepreneurs, busy professionals, senior government officers and seasoned corporate leaders. A number of them, at least ten by the last count, have been bestowed high state honours and in one case, federal honours.

If these old boys really wanted to have had a closed door event, then they would not have invited the former teachers. Some of these groups even go so far as to provide transport for these teachers to attend the events.

Who are these Amazing Teachers? 

Having served as a teacher at this school for fifteen years ( 1966 to 1980 ), these are the few teachers that I vividly remember. I will name them in no fixed order.

Diana’s commitment to the students was so deep that she even held special tuition classes after normal school hours for those who were weak in the subject. This was her idea and these students did not have to pay any fee for this extra service.

Mrs Diana Yeoh was the teacher who taught mathematics with an uncommon passion. She is married to Mr. Yeoh Jin Leng, a former art lecturer at the Specialist Teachers Training Institute in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur and a well known Malaysian sculptor. She was a teacher, who dressed very simply, tied her hair up in a ponytail and got down to teaching with great skill and determination.

Extra Classes for Weak Students

Diana’s commitment to the students was so deep that she even held special tuition classes after normal school hours for those who were weak in the subject. This was her idea and these students did not have to pay any fee for this extra service. This was truly service above and beyond the call of duty and thus was hugely appreciated.

Influence for Good

A former student, years later, even wrote to the editor of a mainstream newspaper to remark that he decided to specialise in mathematics while at the university because of Mrs Diana Yeoh.

Mr Denis Armstrong is best remembered as a teacher, a feared disciplinarian and a formidable athletics coach. When I first arrived at La Salle Brickfields, Denis was already the supervisor of the Secondary School. Technically speaking, we were not recognised as a school but as a number of secondary classes attached to La Salle Brickfields Primary School 1. The headmaster of the primary school, the late Mr Albert Rozario also doubled up as headmaster of the secondary school.

Why was Denis a feared but respected disciplinarian?

Brickfields at that time had a poor reputation. Our students came mostly from socio-economically disadvantaged communities in Brickfields, Old Klang Road and Bangsar. Petty crime was rife and small time thugs made life miserable for many residents. Denis did not want this situation to be the norm at the school. Denis, I must add, is a black belt Tae Kwan Do exponent.

Over the years many former students have commented that this strict discipline in school was truly appreciated.

Tough Love at La Salle Brickfields

He imposed his brand of discipline with an iron resolve. But he also knew when to relent and look the other way on occasions. Many old boys recall that when they entered Denis’s office, he would allow them to choose from among his range of canes. He had thin ones, slightly thicker ones and a thick one. The whole episode consisted of three parts: having to wait agonisingly for him to arrive; having to choose the right sort of cane; and having to endure the number of strokes.

Over the years many former students have commented that this strict discipline in school was truly appreciated. None surprisingly expressed any resentment whatsoever! In fact, I remember a former student, Jeffery Felix, now an accomplished musician and a well-known glass artist residing in Alabama, USA saying something to the effect that they certainly needed such tough love!

A Passion for Athletics

Denis was also a highly competent athletics coach as attested to by many old boys who excelled in athletics. During his tenure as a coach, La Salle Brickfields became a powerhouse in the district and in the state much to the chagrin of bigger and better-equipped schools.

Such was Denis’s fame and stature that I once heard an old boy remark that had Denis coached the US 4 X 100 metres track team in the 1968 Mexico Olympics they would not have fumbled with the baton change! It is high praise indeed. It is worth mentioning that in all these athletics-related activities, Denis had one faithful and reliable colleague to assist him, Mr. K. Raja from LSB Primary School 1.

Mr Yong Hin Hong was a Brinsford Lodge, United Kingdom-trained teacher with an uncanny ability to teach effectively especially the subject of general science. When it was time for his lesson, the whole class had to move over to the well equipped and spacious science laboratory.

For many keen students, this trip to the science lab generated their interest in the subject. You will recall that it was an era when the first man, astronaut Neil Armstrong, landed on the moon! Science was and still is an intriguing subject and greater emphasis was being given to that subject.

A Rough Diamond

I remain grateful to Hin Hong because he was a truly supportive colleague and we got along well. At my request, he willingly assisted me by covering a part of the agricultural science syllabus. He was small in size, had a short fuse but a truly big heart. It was something in his DNA because both he and his father suffered from heart problems.

Success on the Soccer Field

Hin Hong was also the able coach for the soccer team. He and many of our students then followed the English Premier League ( EPL ) with a passion that I could not understand. He cultivated this love for soccer, coached his players with skill and competence and this usually translated into success in the field. The La Salle Brickfields soccer team did very well in district and state level championship competitions. Hin Hong sadly passed away a few years ago.

Some Other Teachers

There were, of course, many other teachers like Mrs Suan Fredericks, the talented teacher who taught art and who was responsible for the lovely, striking mural on the outside wall of the new building block at La Salle Brickfields.  The others including Mrs Theresa Oh who taught history, Mr Eric Koh who taught physical education and Mr Low Kim Seng who taught agricultural science have all migrated to Australia.

Mr Lucas Wong who taught general science, Mr V Sequerah who was the class teacher of Form Three Blue and Mrs Amarjeet Mahendran who taught English Language still live in the Klang Valley. Mrs Thana Ponnudurai, a state level hockey player and who was the class teacher of Form Three Blue now lives in Switzerland.

Some Quotes on Teachers

An arrogant individual in the past is reported to have famously made the following mean statement: ‘ Those who can, do; those who can’t teach.’ Be that as it may, there is always another side to that argument.

There is the celebrated case of how a primary school teacher in the US once put a high-flying chief executive officer in his place when he talked down to her at a social event.  He had cheekily asked her what she makes i.e. her salary.

She coolly, calmly and in a measured manner said: I teach children how to read, I teach them mathematics, I also teach them about the importance of good manners and civility. In addition, I teach them about respect….for their parents, for elders etc. I make a difference in their lives. What do you make sir? There was a stunned silence from the duly embarrassed individual.

I would, however, take some measure of comfort in the thoughtful statement attributed to Lee Iacocca, former celebrated chairman and chief executive officer of Chrysler Corporation. He said: ‘ In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less.’

And as you and I know, in these days, we do not live in a completely rational society.

No Text Book for Agricultural Science

On my part, I was tasked with the teaching of agricultural science in my very first year at La Salle Brickfields. It was a newly introduced subject in some Malaysian schools and none of the teacher training colleges had prepared budding teachers for this task.

There was not even a text book out at that time but I was nevertheless required to teach the subject to the best of my ability! It was a tall order indeed.

With the kind assistance from a senior agricultural science teacher at Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur who willingly lent me his notes, I was able to carry out the task with some success.

Promoted Debating Activities

In addition, for many years, I was also the class master for Form Three Yellow.

I also taught English Language to my class. I enjoyed teaching that subject and perhaps did it with some degree of success. This assessment is based on the feedback I received many years later from some of my former students. I also actively promoted debating activities. Many students were reluctant and shy to engage in debate but over time, they somehow got the hang of it.

These were not just reunions of old boys but also occasions to sincerely acknowledge the contributions of their teachers in no uncertain terms.

It is good to keep in mind that many students spoke dialect at home i.e. either Malay, Cantonese or Tamil. Thus, debating in the English Language was seen as a task too far! But I persisted, coached and cajoled them and over time they came to appreciate the merits and joy of that activity.

Acclaimed Actress’s Words

At a recent academy awards ceremony in the US, one of the greatest actresses of our time, Meryl Streep, said something to the effect that being an actor was a special privilege. She added that this remark originally came from another well-known actor, Tommy Lee Jones.

Taking that as my cue, I now feel somewhat along the same lines. The few teachers and I from this school have been on the receiving end of a seemingly endless series of reunions / dinners.

These were not just reunions of old boys but also occasions to sincerely acknowledge the contributions of their teachers in no uncertain terms. These former students, to their great everlasting credit, have been unfailingly courteous, kind and grateful for all that we did.

It was for them, I believe, the sum total of the whole edifying La Salle educational experience where due emphasis was given not just to academic activities. The unique mix of ethos, culture, traditions and extra mural activities played a huge part in the whole educational process. In addition, by being in a small school with a small enrolment and a small group of teachers, everyone got to know each other pretty well.

In that La Sallian spirit and on looking back with a degree of nostalgia, I cannot help but feel that teaching and teaching at La Salle Brickfields, in particular, was a singular privilege that I shall treasure for the rest of my life.

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Debt of Gratitude to the De La Salle Brothers

The Superior General of the Institute of the De La Salle Christian Brothers made a brief but meaningful visit to three cities in Malaysia towards the end of March 2015. Rev. Bro. Dr. Robert Schieler who was elected the superior general last May was on his first visit to Malaysia as the head of this international body of De La Salle Brothers.

Rev. Bro Dr. Schieler in addition to having an undergraduate degree has also earned two post graduate degrees: one in Modern European History from the University of Notre Dame and another in Asian Studies from the University of the Philippines. His Ph.D in Educational Administration is from the University of Pennsylvania.

Ability to Harness the Networks within the Family

Shortly after being elected the superior general of the De La Salle Brothers, he made a perceptive and telling observation: ‘ I know that anything that can be accomplished will be done only because of the great Lasallian Family that we are all part of‘.

In Kuala Lumpur and at a dinner in his honour at St John’s Institution, he further elaborated that what the De La Salle Brothers achieved over the many years was only possible because of the La Sallian Family’s ability to effectively harness the many networks within the family.

Solid & Ready Support from Old Boys

He went on to state that the loyalty, goodwill and solid support extended to the De La Salle Brothers from old boys of their schools, colleges and universities was second to none! He also paid tribute to the many lay teachers who shared the same teaching philosophy and taught alongside the De La Salle Brothers over the years. Furthermore, he also mentioned the role played by Parent Teacher Associations and a host of similar minded groups.

The La Salle Family in Malaysia had every reason to give him a warm welcome. Those who have studied at a La Salle school in Malaysia owe an immense debt of gratitude to the De La Salle Brothers who first came to this country more than one hundred and sixty years ago.

Unique La Sallian Characteristics

La Sallian schools in Malaysia have, over the years, earned an enviable reputation for excellence in academic, sporting and extra-curricula activities. They achieved this eminence and status through their unique La Sallian characteristics.

These include the following: respect for each student. La Salle teachers chose to be called brothers rather than masters as was the case in France at that time. They were seen as older brothers and role models by their students. Another characteristic is quality, all round education. The young student really learns and develops a thirst for truth and knowledge. They are also helped to think clearly.

Focus on the Last, the Lost and the Least

A third characteristic is openness to all: the poor, the rich, the neglected… these La Sallian schools opened their doors to all irrespective of race, status and religion. A fourth characteristic is La Sallian schools have dedicated teachers who would work with strong faith and ardent zeal for the good of their community.

De La Salle Brothers and their fellow lay teachers gave special attention to the Last, the Lost and the Least in society. This unrelenting focus on the socio economically disadvantaged remains to this day.

A Force for Good in the Community

Today the La Salle Family in Malaysia consisting of loyal alumni and students, teachers and principals both past and present, board of managers, board of governors and parent teacher associations are a force for good in their respective communities in the country.

A case in point to consider is the dinner in honour of the superior general was organised by the De La Salle Brothers in collaboration with the Malaysian Federation of La Sallian Alumni Associations. This was a big undertaking, given the time constraints. It also involved attracting and inviting attendees from the La Salle Family in Melaka, Muar, Johore, Seremban, Negri Sembilan, Klang, Petaling Jaya, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. As it turned out, about two hundred and fifty guests were present for the dinner to welcome and meet the superior general.

Malaysian Federation of La Sallian Alumni Associations

The biennial La Sallian Educators Conference, the last one in Taiping, Perak in September 2014, is another example of this fine collaboration. The federation is an active and forward looking umbrella body for all La Sallian associations in Malaysia. However, no one should underestimate the many challenges facing La Salle schools in Malaysia.

I am sure that the superior general would have gained a first hand appreciation of the fine La Sallian heritage and traditions in Malaysia. Rev. Bro Dr. Robert Schieler will also take back with him the ever lasting gratitude of thousands of individuals who have benefitted from the selfless sacrifice of the De La Salle Brothers. The herculean challenge ahead of us here in Malaysia is to do our very best in reviving the La Sallian ethos towards integrity, unity and spirituality.

The La Sallian Contribution to Moral and Ethical Education : Character Building

I would like to start with a quote from that famous Chinese writer, linguist and inventor, Lin Yutang. He said,

‘It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action’.

To really understand the La Sallian contribution to moral and ethical education let us pause for a while and examine a part of St John Baptist de La Salle’s last will and testament. In it he emphasized unity among the Brothers. He advised them not to get involved in doctrinal debates of the church for which they were not prepared.

Good News for the Poor

However, the founder of the religious order reminded them of the purpose for which they were founded. Their main mission was and still is to become Good News for the poor and the working class through the service of education.

The Raison D’etre

Why did the founder emphasize this particular aspect? St John Baptist de La Salle lived in seventeenth and eighteenth century France. The country was then a hierarchical society with a small upper class and a large under class.

In his time, the French upper class was immersed in a lifestyle of immense wealth, extravagance and splendour. The poor, unfortunately, had no place in this society except as servants to the rich.

The founder wanted to change that initially by focussing on educating the poor and the working class. His goals for education were thus socially motivated. In short, he urged the Brothers to serve the LAST, the LEAST and the LOST.

Brief History

In 1719, there were 100 Brothers teaching in thirty seven educational institutions in France. Sixty years later, at the time of the French Revolution, there were 1,000 Brothers teaching throughout France.

By the turn of the 20th century, there were more than 15,000 Brothers serving in ministries throughout the world.

La Salle Brothers first came to Malaysia 162 years ago. The first school was established in Penang in 1852. There are now forty four schools in Malaysia.

Definition of Character: What Embodies Good Character?

Let us see what the great American president Abraham Lincoln had to say on this matter. He said:

‘Reputation is the shadow. Character is the tree. Our character is much more than just what we try to display for others to see. It is who we are even when no one is watching. Good character is doing the right thing because it is wise to do what is right ‘.

Now let us examine three definitions of character.

One dictionary defines character as ‘ the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual ‘. Another says it is ‘the complex of mental and ethical traits marking a person’. A third dictionary says that it is ‘the stable and distinctive qualities built into an individual’s life which determine his or her response regardless of circumstances’. As you can clearly see there are commonalities in all three definitions. As such, character building is a very important part of the total education process.

Compelling Reasons for Character Education

Professor Thomas Lickona who specialises in this field offers us seven compelling reasons for character education. He maintains that it is the best way to make an enduring difference in the life of a student. He believes that if it is carried out properly, it will improve academic achievement. Moreover, he states that many students are not getting strong character formation anywhere else! Professor Lickona believes that it prepares students to respect others and live in a diverse society.

Furthermore, it goes to the root of a range of social-moral problems including incivility, dishonesty, violence, premature sexual activity and a poor work ethic. He also believes that it is the best preparation for the work place. And finally, teaching the values of a culture is the work of civilisation.

What Embodies Good Character?

The Character Training Institute of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma provides us with a range of values that embody good character. These include the following: creativity, decisiveness, deference, dependability, determination, diligence, discernment, discretion, endurance, enthusiasm, faith, flexibility, forgiveness, generosity, gentleness, gratefulness, hospitality, humility, joyfulness, justice, loyalty, meekness, obedience, orderliness, patience, persuasiveness, punctuality, resourcefulness, responsibility, security, self-control, sensitivity, sincerity, thoroughness, thriftiness, tolerance, truthfulness, virtue and wisdom.

As you can see there is a whole range of values that go into the heady mix of what embodies good character. The challenge for educators in Malaysia is to provide the setting and the example for these values to be absorbed and then internalised by our students in our multi cultural setting.

Fundamentals of La Sallian Contribution

The Brothers and the lay teachers who support them in this noble mission are constantly reminded that their focus should be on the Last, the Least and the Lost in our society. As such, one fundamental is to educate the working class. The next is that the Brothers are seen as elder brothers and role models and not as Masters… the term used to describe teachers in France at that time.

There is also recognition that no man is an island. There is an on–going commitment to excellence in teaching. In addition, there is due respect for human dignity and a reflection of faith and it’s relation to reason. There is much emphasis placed on ethical conduct and finally, there is a deep abiding commitment to social justice.

Characteristics of La Sallian Schools

These are some of the characteristics of La Sallian schools.

There is due respect for each student. A healthy community spirit is established and nourished. There is an emphasis on quality education. There is a spirit of openness to all, regardless of race, colour or creed.

In addition, there is support for dedicated teachers who go beyond the call of duty and sacrifice a lot for the students under their care. The teachers in these schools have an understanding and knowledge of St John Baptist de La Salle

La Sallian Measures that Contribute to Character Building

The La Salle Brothers and their lay teachers provide the environment to foster the development of academic, social, inter-personal and professional skills which assist the students to become successful young men. They also contribute their talents and energies to the communities in which they live. As such, the students work towards the following goals:

Specific Goals

To become educated men who possess academic, social, interpersonal, professional and job related skills which enable them to think critically, to assume leadership and to exercise their freedom;

To become cultured men who appreciate the fine arts;

To become patriotic citizens who are prepared to live in and appreciate a diverse, integrated society; and finally

To become men and women who are emotionally prepared to deal with the complexity of life in our changing society.

Range of Extra- Curricula Activities

La Sallian schools, therefore, encourage their students to participate actively in a wide range of extra-curricula activities. These include participation in one or more of the following activities: Boy Scouts movement, Cadet Corps, Red Cross / Crescent Societies, chess, athletics, sports – soccer, hockey, rugby, cricket, tennis, table tennis, badminton, basketball and swimming just to name a few.

There is also encouragement to participate in public speaking events and debates for the upper secondary school students. In addition, it is de rigueur for La Salle schools to organise and host an annual school concert and/or a play or musical event. In some instances, teachers also participate in the school plays or musicals. In such cases, the La Sallian family spirit thrives.

A Range of Benefits that Ensue

As a result of these La Sallian measures and a range of appropriate activities, the following benefits ensue.

Students take a much broader view of their education. By participation in these activities, they learn what it is to be an educated person. It inculcates values and principles of fair play. Students also understand that good sportsmanship is not just about winning but to play the game. They are also taught to show a round of appreciation for a gallant loser in a game or contest.

In addition, there is acceptance and understanding for the views of others. Students also learn to generously share knowledge, skills and experience. They learn to stand up for what they believe to be moral and right. And thorough it all, they are being groomed slowly but surely in leadership. In other words, students are taught to be responsible citizens. At the end of the day, this is what Character Building is all about.

Comparative Perspectives

At this juncture, it will be useful for us to be aware of the approach taken by two premier schools in the Klang Valley. One of the schools is Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur and the other is Assunta Secondary School in Petaling Jaya.

This is the feedback that I received from a former student of Victoria Institution. He is a chartered management accountant by profession and is currently serving as executive director of a public listed company.

Victoria Institution

At this school, rules were rules and they were applied across the board. There were no exceptions made even for sons of royalty, senior civil servants or the rich. The goal posts were fixed… more like cast in concrete!

The teachers here did not engage in private tuition. They were born teachers, for the most part. Teaching was then considered a noble and respected profession.

All Malaysian principals at Victoria Institution were former students or were made fully aware of its rich heritage, history and ethos. On one occasion when a principal made a mistake on a matter affecting the history of the school, he was quickly taken to task by the senior members of the Old Boys Association. The matter was then immediately set right!

There was heavy emphasis on sports and athletics. Teachers were involved personally and often went beyond expectations. Many were prominent sportsmen and a few were Olympians.

All these measures helped to create a strong bond amongst the students. They understood rules, believed in team work and fair play and willingly shouldered responsibility.

Assunta Secondary School

In the case of Assunta Secondary School, I received feedback from a former student who is now a chief executive officer of an integrated communications agency based in Honolulu, Hawaii.

This school was founded and run by Franciscan nuns. She imbibed a Catholicism that prioritized the person over rules.

The Franciscan lens encouraged the students to view others and the world around them more sympathetically. A wider and more compassionate perspective encouraged care of the environment and good stewardship of the planet.

Compassion and respect for the integrity of people of other faiths was fostered. The nuns and lay teachers encouraged a sense of personal empowerment and the ability for the girls to rise to their fullest potential.

Finally, an Assunta education gave the girls the encouragement of independent critical thinking.

As you can see the approach taken by these two premier schools has much in common with the La Sallian values, ethos and traditions.

The Role of the Lay Teachers

No discussion about the La Salle education system can be complete without mention of the key role played by lay teachers in these mission schools. These dedicated teachers played an important supporting role in furthering the cause of the La Salle mission because they chose to be teachers!

Most of them chose to be exemplary teachers. Many of them received their teacher training at St Joseph’s Training College in Penang. This is the very same La Salle college where the Brothers themselves received their formative and teacher training sessions.

Quite a number of these teachers were keen sportsmen and athletes. By their example, they inspired the students to follow suit.

Such teachers in La Salle schools were held in high esteem by La Salle Brothers, students and parents.

The La Salle Brand

The La Salle brand enjoys an enviable reputation for excellence in academic matters, sports, athletics and a host of extra mural activities. It is synonymous with a solid all round education.

As such, the La Salle educators continuing focus on the Last, the Least and the Lost in our society remains undiminished.

Re-positioning the La Salle Brand

There is an on-going move to slowly but surely re-position the La Salle brand in Malaysia. This is necessary because today we are operating in ‘ restrictive spaces ‘.

The challenge before us, therefore, is to work within these restrictive spaces but with a big heart!

The need to work within these confines is partly because of badly framed laws, flip flops in policy decisions, limits on media and failing public services. The good news here is that a La Sallian education provides teachers and students alike the intellectual and emotional tools to navigate these restrictive spaces.

We need, therefore, to remain open to new and equally beneficial ways to implement the La Sallian philosophy and in the process, re-position the La Salle brand in Malaysia.

A Few Proposals

  1. Direct Education Services to the Poor (DESP) was first initiated in Penang by Bro John D’Cruz, a former principal of St George’s Institution in Taiping twenty five years ago. It started quietly as a project amongst a very poor community in Penang evolving over the years into a Community Based Learning Centre(CBLC).

There are currently four CBLCs in Sarawak and one in Penang. There are also Community Based Tuition Centres. At present there are four in the Bau district and one in Kuching, Sarawak. In addition, there are two residential hostels in Sabah. School Based Learning Centres are also sprouting. There is one in Penang and efforts are underway to establish one each in Petaling Jaya and Klang.

There is a need to provide basic training for dedicated volunteer facilitators on an on-going basis at these centres. There is also a need to schedule regular meetings for the volunteer facilitators to exchange ideas and share experiences.

DESP therefore needs to be further expanded and rolled out throughout Malaysia and especially in poor urban communities where the need is greatest. In remote rural areas, there is also a need to provide hostel facilities in order to lessen the burden of the students having to travel long distances to and from school.

  1. There is a need to revive and re-establish the very successful Annual Inter La Salle Schools’ Athletics and Games Competition. This was a winner in the past and produced many outstanding athletes and sportsmen at both state and national levels.
  1. There is also a need to revive and re-establish the Annual Inter La Salle Games for teachers serving in La Salle schools throughout the nation.

As far as items two and three are concerned, they in addition also help to strengthen the bond among students and teachers. These inter La Salle events also help to engender a family spirit within the La Salle community.

( Paper presented by Benedict Morais FIPR, MMIM, Member, Board of Governors, La Salle Brickfields Secondary School and Member, Selangor Regional La Salle Educational Council and Peter Sinniah BA (Hons) UM Geography, Member, Board of Governors, La Salle Brickfields Secondary School and President, La Salle Brickfields Alumni at the 6th Malaysian La Salle Educators Conference held in Taiping, Perak on 15 and 16 September 2014 ).

How To Organise a Reunion Dinner and Fellowship Event : With Confidence, Class and Style

On Saturday, 22 March, I attended a La Salle Brickfields Secondary School Reunion Dinner and Fellowship event at the Bukit Kiara Resort in Kuala Lumpur. The event was organised by a 10 man committee from the Class of 1976.

For the LSB Class of 1976, this was their first reunion after nearly forty years. Most of the former students, now in their fifties, come from the Klang Valley but there were also a few from the other states, including Penang. One even came from Australia and I understand that there was an individual from Canada too. Such was the reach and influence of this committee.

Encouraging Response from the former Students

I was informed that sixty five former students attended the event. In those days when these students were in Form Three, each of the four classes had about 45 students. This was a commendable effort made all the more difficult because it was being attempted after a lapse of 38 years. The committee was also able to talk to two former students during the dinner via skype … one from the United Kingdom and the other from Canada. The attendees in the hall were able to watch the candidates as they spoke and listen to the conversation.

Former Teachers who were Present

The following teachers from La Salle Brickfields Secondary School were present: Low Kim Seng, Eric Koh ( both travelled from Australia for the event ), Denis Armstrong, Vivien Sequerah, Kathy Tan Eu Toh, Denis Doss and Benedict Morais. Present from La Salle Brickfields Primary School were: Kua Beng Hock, S. P. Nathan, Mrs Bala, Magdalene Chew, L. A. Fernandez and Albert Rozario. Also present for the event was Mrs Chee, the newly appointed principal of LSB Secondary School.

The organising committee even went to the extent of coordinating and facilitating the transport arrangements for the teachers. This ensured that those teachers who needed assistance to get to the venue or those who did not drive these days because of old age problems were provided with a hassle free service by others who were pleased to lend a helping hand.

Air of Optimism and Confidence

The whole reunion exercise was conducted with an air of optimism and confidence by the committee under the able leadership of George Tan Boon Sim. He had recruited nine other similar minded and enthusiastic individuals. From the results and from what I was told, the committee worked with great passion and commitment knowing that this was going to be quite a task to successfully pull off. If you have not met or kept in touch for 38 years then the task of contacting and reaching out to these former Class of 1976 students will be that much harder. But that seemed to be the kind of insurmountable challenge that these leaders needed to give them that extra boost and motivation. If I am not mistaken, according to Tan Meng Chai from the Class of 1976, the planning for this memorable event began months ago.

Old Boy Network and Social Media

The committee made good use of the old boy network along the way. With the widespread use of mobile phones, email and Facebook, the committee was able to reach out to very many former students. This was not just in Malaysia but also wherever they were overseas. One thing led to another and in the process they also discovered that two LSB teachers who had migrated years ago now lived in Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia.

This information was gleaned through a chance encounter between a former student who was trying to get to a dinner meeting in Melbourne, who happened to ask a train commuter for directions to the dinner venue. That helpful commuter turned out to be his former teacher. Talk about coincidence. That was an amazing bit of luck and both teachers subsequently attended the reunion dinner in Kuala Lumpur. The Gods must have been smiling!

The Welcome and Dinner

From the moment we walked in, we sensed that this event was going to be something extraordinary. There was a very good reception at the entrance to the Bukit Kiara Resort. A couple of the organising committee members and a few former students were on hand to warmly welcome, with much enthusiasm and happiness, their former teachers.

We could feel their friendliness, warmth and sincerity. They had helpfully sported clear tags on their shirts that proudly proclaimed their names. This thoughtful gesture made it that much easier for the teachers, most of whom are in their seventies and eighties, to know and use their names while conversing with the individuals.

Seating Arrangements

The seating arrangements for the former students were left free and easy… they could sit at any table in the hall. However, there was a special seating arrangement for the former teachers. All those teachers present were seated in two rows facing each other, right in the centre of the dining hall. On all four sides of the hall were tables where the former students and their guests were seated.

The rationale for this arrangement was that it enabled the students to see their teachers from all angles and allowed them an opportunity to walk up and chat with individual teachers from time to time. It was, in short, a brilliant idea. I observed many students do just that throughout the night. There were also many former students who walked up to chat with me during the course of the night.

Array of Appetising Dishes

At Old Boys reunion gatherings such as these, the dinner is the excuse to meet. The food should just be incidental to the occasion… or so I thought. But my former students showed me otherwise!

It was certainly not one of the more mundane, boring dinners with a mix of equally boring, unappetising dishes. In their wisdom, the committee opted to give the guests and attendees a feast… yes, really a feast fit for a wedding bash! There was such an array of interesting dishes, including satay together with an equally wide display of local desserts.

In fact, one former student remarked that since they are all now in their fifties, they cannot ( or will not ) eat so much for health reasons. Putting that concern aside, the committee opted to treat the attendees and guests to a lavish meal. Such was the concern and care shown by the committee.

Supporters and Well Wishers

I noticed that there were a number of female guests and young children in the hall. I was subsequently informed that they were the wives and children of the former students.

Apparently some of these former students wanted to extend the invitation to their wives and children to see and observe first hand some of the teachers who had taught their fathers. One of the friendly photographers at the event was actually the daughter of one of the former students.

This was excellent team work in action at the event that night. It was good that these former students wanted their supporters and well wishers to see their former teachers.

Other Touches of Class

i. The chairman of the organising committee, George Tan, set the right tone from the very start of the dinner with some inspiring and rousing remarks. The emcee, a practising lawyer, did a fine job in moving the programme forward effortlessly. There were also a few other speakers who shared their experiences.

ii. The current principal of the LSB secondary school, Mrs Chee, also chose to speak to the crowd. She seemed very impressed and moved by the proceedings and by the spirit displayed by the former La Sallians from Brickfields. She also made an appeal for funds and other assistance.

iii. The Old Boys of LSB responded spontaneously and magnificently and in a matter of minutes raised RM 10,000 that same night. What a mighty show of support, loyalty and espirit de corps for their alma mater. The cash contribution was handed over to the principal there and then.

iv. If inviting the former teachers was not enough recognition, the committee went one step further and presented the teachers present with a glass plaque boldly emblazoned with the wording: In appreciation of our Teacher. It also had the words Class of 1976 and the all too familiar green, white and red logo of LSB.

v. The organising committee also invited the current president of the LSB Old Boys Association to the event. Peter Sinniah was, in addition, invited to speak to the attendees and he urged them to provide some assistance to the school in order to restore the lustre to LSB.

Final Thoughts

I was also invited to say a few words on behalf of the teachers by the organising committee. I shared my thoughts on the basic philosophy of La Sallian education. I also touched on the ethos, values and traditions that truly embody La Sallian education. I also took the opportunity to salute the old boys on organising this wonderful event.

Education needs to attract and retain the best of us. But that will not happen as long as teaching remains near the bottom of our professions in pay and prestige. Lee Iacocca, former Chairman and CEO of Chrysler Corporation made this statement years ago. He also famously said that: ‘ In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less!

Change that can Make the Difference

For that great and enabling change to happen in Malaysia, we have to take partisan politics out of education for good. Now that is a tall order! We need to return to what has really worked and has also stood the test of time. La Sallian education, as we all know and benefitted from it, certainly fits the bill. Dare we rise to a higher standard of expectation?

On a personal note, I have had the pleasure of attending a number of reunion dinner events organised by the LSB old boys over the years. However, none of these LSB old boys’ reunion dinners could match the careful approach, care and consideration exhibited by the Class of 1976.

The Gold Standard

The La Salle Brickfields Class of 1976 organising committee has certainly led the way in sheer organising ability. The committee has shown us all how to go about organising a truly meaningful, enjoyable and classy reunion. These guys have, in my opinion, now set the Gold Standard as far as reunion gatherings are concerned. It is now up to the La Sallians in Malaysia and even regionally, wherever they maybe, to try to meet this standard of excellence. They could, if they so wish, even raise the bar higher when it comes to organising reunion gatherings.

These old boys with renewed vigour and enthusiasm intend to meet again, this time in Bangkok, Thailand in 2016. I am sure that this LSB reunion too will set new standards in fostering fellowship and rekindling friendships.

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Below is a copy of the Remarks I delivered at the event :

REMARKS BY BENEDICT MORAIS AT THE LSB CLASS OF 1976 REUNION DINNER AND FELLOWSHIP AT BUKIT KIARA RESORT, KUALA LUMPUR ON SATURDAY, 22 MARCH 2014

Chairman, Organising Committee
La Salle Brickfields Class of 1976
Fellow Teachers
Former Students
Supporters and Well Wishers
Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you for the kind invitation to say a few words.

On behalf of my fellow teaching colleagues, let me just say how honoured, touched and pleased we all are to be here tonight with all of you from that La Salle Brickfields Class of 1976. It is simply wonderful and humbling to note that even in your quest to meet and rekindle old ties and friendships, a big effort was made to trace and invite former teachers to share in this historic gathering. The silver haired brigade thank you again for that kindness.

It is almost forty years since you left La Salle Brickfields and I understand from Tan Meng Chai that this is your very first such reunion. Well then Congratulations! It is, of course, better late than never to meet and renew ties. The large turn out tonight, both in terms of former students and former teachers is a big tribute to the organisers who must have worked really hard to ensure the success of this event. Please join me in giving them a hearty round of applause.

La Salle Brickfields Spirit

Permit me, therefore, to salute your great La Salle Brickfields spirit and the camaraderie that has brought you all here tonight. You guys have really showcased incredible organisational ability in pulling this event off so successfully. Well done guys. I must also commend you for the trouble you took to even organise / coordinate the transport arrangements for the senior citizens. That level of detail, care and thoughtfulness is deeply appreciated.

Remembering Those Who Are Not Here Tonight.

I would also like on this occasion to remember those teachers and former students who are unable to join us tonight. Some teachers like the late Yeong Hin Hong, Mrs Low Peng Lum and Mokhtar Jamil have passed on. I believe a few of the former students too have passed on. Others have migrated or are working overseas. Let us all remember them as we celebrate.

What is Special about La Sallian Education?

La Sallian education has always had the enviable task of: restoring integrity; promoting unity; and fostering spirituality in our schools. Think of those lofty objectives for a moment and then contrast that to what is happening in our country today. I do not need to elaborate. Just reflect on your days in La Salle Brickfields………. that is what we call the La Sallian ethos, values and traditions. This La Sallian education has achieved with remarkable success over the last few decades.

La Sallian education, I would like to think, is synonymous with a responsible, holistic education. Sports, athletics and extra mural activities were an integral part of that La Sallian experience for many of you. Some of you may remember with nostalgia the extraordinary exploits of our athletes in track and field events, in soccer and hockey and of course the Inter La Salle Games. There was a unity of purpose in those days and although we actually belonged to three schools ( two primary and one secondary ) we felt and acted as one school! Those were the golden years!

All these special activities have, in turn, developed well adjusted, caring and compassionate individuals who are capable of factoring in the bigger picture.

Finally, La Sallian education believes in focussing on the LAST, the LOST and the LEAST in our communities. The quest of the La Salle brothers and lay teachers was / is to build a new world order founded in FAITH, cherished with HOPE and expressed in SERVICE.

Many of us here today are products of that wonderful mission. I wish you all more career, family and personal success as you go forward. This is your peak period career wise and family wise. May all your efforts be abundantly blessed.

Let us now continue to enjoy the night.

Thank you.

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Delivering Holistic Education to the LAST, the LOST and the LEAST – the Essence of the La Sallian Contribution

On Saturday, 7 December 2013, I attended the National La Sallian Conference held in Kuala Lumpur, together with about ninety five other individuals from all over Malaysia. There were representatives from Sabah, Penang, Seremban and Malacca to name a few. Many of them were from the Board of Managers, the Board of Governors, Parent Teacher Associations, Alumni, Administrators, Teachers and the Infant Jesus Convents. There were also a few representatives from St Joseph’s Training College Alumni. They were all there to lend support for the conference on the theme: The La Sallian Response to the Malaysian Education Blueprint.

Four Distinguished Speakers

The event was promoted, marketed and organised by the Malaysian Federation of La Sallian Associations in collaboration with De La Salle Brothers Malaysia. The conference featured four distinguished speakers: Mr. Megat Mizan Nicholas Denny, Chairman of Board of Governors, St John’s Institution and St John’s International, Kuala Lumpur; Rev Bro Anthony Rogers FSC, Director – La Salle Brothers Malaysia; Dr. Francis Loh Kok Wah, Chairman of Board of Governors, St Xavier’s Institution, Penang; and Ms. Julia Willie Jock, Super Principal – La Salle Kota Kinabalu.

La Sallian Efforts at Adopting and Enhancing Initiatives

Mr Megat Mizan, who is Head of Group Business Development and concurrently Executive Director at K & N Kenanga Holdings Berhad, gave an insightful presentation on the National Educational Blueprint: A Focus on La Salle Schools in Malaysia. He outlined some of the 25 Key Initiatives under the 1st Wave ( 2013 – 2015 ) of the National Blueprint. His focus was on areas where the La Sallian Educational structure can adopt and enhance these initiatives to provide a higher standard of education in all the La Salle schools in the country.

Reviving the La Sallian Ethos towards Integrity, Unity and Spirituality

Rev Bro Anthony Rogers, who is Director of De Salle Brothers Malaysia and Chairman of Malaysian La Sallian Educationa Council (MLEC), highlighted the fundamental premise that the La Sallian Family in Malaysia has the urgent task to re-discover a new sense of hope. Rev Bro Rogers stressed that the world today is fragmented within and divided outside. The La Sallian Education has the task of restoring integrity, promoting unity and fostering spirituality.

Rev Bro Rogers believes this is possible because La Sallian Education is synonymous with a responsible education, contrary to an education model that creates one dimensional individuals, entrenched comfortably in their tiny world and pursuing their own interests, and incapable of connecting themselves with the larger picture. He made the case persuasively for our return to the Last, the Lost and the Least in our collective quest to build a new world order founded in Faith, cherished with Hope and expressed in Service.

Case for Decentralisation to Restore Excellence

The third speaker, Dr Francis Loh was Professor of Politics in Universiti Sains Malaysia until he retired in 2012. He is president of Aliran and a regular contributor to its Aliran Monthly. Dr Loh mentioned that there is much criticism of the state of education in our schools and universities. They range from: declining standards, especially in science and mathematics; biasedness in the history and civics curriculum; poor grasp of the English language; lack of awareness of the globalised world beyond Malaysia; worsening discipline among students; poorly trained teachers; inadequate attention given to weaker students especially in rural schools; and marginalisation of national type and mission schools in terms of financial support.

Dr Francis Loh made a strong case for decentralisation. In fact, he said, many of these problems stem from over centralisation of the education system. He called for decentralisation of this machine to allow parents, old boys and girls, and the community writ large to complement the roles of teachers, administrators and the MOE. Drawing from the experiences of several mission schools in Penang, he proposed some areas for effective community engagement with this massive machine, in order to restore a sense of mission in our schools. He challenged those present to consider deeply in the light of the sad reality that there are very few La Salle Brothers left, how we as caretakers of their admirable tradition should proceed.

Touching Hearts, Teaching Minds and Transforming Lives

The fourth and last speaker was Ms. Julia Willie Jock, Super Principal of La Salle Kota Kinabalu ( LSKK). She has held this post since 2006 and was incidentally a student of La Salle Secondary School, Kota Kinabalu from 1974 to 1976. She is also a Master Trainer with Institute Aminuddin Baki at the MOE as well as a Principal Coach for the MOE and mentors novice principals and aspiring principals.

Ms Julia shared with passion the journey of Touching Hearts, Teaching Minds and Transforming Lives undertaken by La Salle Kota Kinabalu in their quest to reenergise their La Sallian heritage and traditions. This task, she acknowledged, was made that much easier with enormous help and support from the La Salle Board of Management, the PTA, the Alumni and the school population and partners in education. It was collectively decided that their focus should be on La Sallian values of faith, service and community. They also agreed to share a common dream and a common mission and to especially focus on the Last, The Lost and the Least. In that process, it was their intention to ensure that every La Sallian matters!

I must confess that I had not realised we had such a gem of a true La Sallian school in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah and a jewel of a principal to steer it to greater heights of endeavour. What also struck me were the effectiveness, fellowship and cohesiveness of the tripartite partnership in LSKK. We have much to learn from them. We were also informed that the Minister of Education in Singapore made a special visit to the school to learn first hand how they managed to achieve so much. That is real recognition.

“ The mediocre teacher tells,

The good teacher explains

The superior teacher demonstrates.

The great teacher inspires.”

Ideas Labs

The purpose of the ideas labs, thereafter, was to allow the participants to examine some of the pressing issues that need to be addressed collectively by all. The participants were divided into four working groups: Group A – Issues related to the Board of Governors and Managers; Group B – The Reality of Students in and outside Schools; Group C – The Situation of Administrators and Teachers; and Group D – Parents and Home Environment, the Community and Alumni. Each group was expertly steered by a moderator and it also had a recording secretary. The ideas and recommendations that were agreed are currently being compiled and will be published in due course and thereafter a copy of the publication will be sent to all registered participants.

Our Priority and Challenge as La Sallians

The conference managed to highlight with renewed zeal our identity as La Sallians in Malaysia. We are a community of diverse races and ethnic groups, religious and faith traditions aspiring for unity as Malaysians. As La Sallians, we see the holistic and integral, human and spiritual formation of the young with preference for those who are weak and poor. The dynamism of the La Sallian community in Malaysia is linked to a new partnership with the La Salle Brothers, Parents, Board of Governors / Managers, PTA and Alumni.

There is no doubt that the challenge before us, in this country, is an enormous one. It is up to each and every La Sallian to rise to the challenge and demonstrate that the Last, the Lost and the Least really do matter.