Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Penang Missionary Schools and their dilemma

Missionary Schools was once the best English school tradition left from colonial era; the schools had produced many leaders in the country, and also for other countries, especially Singapore. There are many alumni of the missionary schools all over the world, from Penang. We have many Queen scholars from the schools, former Prime Ministers and business leaders, doctors and lawyers, economist, academician, and people in police and military forces......their contribution in nation building is enormous. They are the important part of the education system in Malaysia.

* Penang Free School founded by Rev. Sparke Hutchings in 1816, is the first and oldest English School in South East Asia. Rev. Sparke Hutchings was the Resident Chaplain of Prince of Wales Island, from the Church of England, the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion (

* The St Xavier's Institution established in 1852, is the first school established in Malaysia to be administered and fully owned by the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, also known as the De La Salle Brothers or the De La Salle Christian Brothers, a Roman Catholic religious teaching order founded by French Priest Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle(

* Convent Light Street or the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, a girls' school established by a French Sisters' Mission in 1852, is the oldest girls' school in South East Asia. Sisters of the Infant Jesus, previously also referred to as Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus or Les Dames de Saint-Maur, is a Roman Catholic Missionary order. It was founded in 1666 by Father Nicolas Barré, a Minim priest, for the gratuitous instruction of poor girls. Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus were among the pioneer missionaries in Malaya and Japan. The Sisters arrived in Malaya as it then was in 1852 – the first mission on foreign soil since the Founding of the Institute in 1666. The first School as well as an Orphanage was in Penang(source: In October 1852, four French nuns arrived in Penang after having travelled overland from their native country in caravans. Reverend Mother Mathilde Raclot, leader of this group, was to become a key personality in the early history of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus on Victoria Street, Singapore in 1854(source: wikipedia)

* The St George's Girls' School, nowadays known as SMK (Perempuan) St George, is a school for girls founded by Anglican missionaries, similar to the Penang Free School. St George's Girls' School traces its history to informal classes in 1884, conducted by Mrs Biggs, wife of Reverend L. Courtier Biggs, Colonial Chaplain and the Anglican missionary in Penang.

* ACS(Anglo Chinese School) or now MBS(Methodist Boy's School), Penang was opened by Rev. B. H. Balderston from Methodist Mission on 28th May 1891 at Carnarvon St, Penang.

* ACGS(The Anglo-Chinese Girls School), now Methodist Girl's School, traces its history back to Oct 1892, when Mrs Amelia Young(later Mrs G.F. Pykett)from Methodist Mission, began conducting classes for girls in Northam Road.

Mission schools or Missionary Schools?

Some said the schools started by missionaries should called Missionary School, not Mission school. You can call it Christian School. A Christian school is a school run on Christian principles or by a Christian organization.

A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to carry on ministries of the word, such as evangelism and literacy, or ministries of service, such as education, social justice, health care and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin missionem (nom. missio), meaning "act of sending" or mittere, meaning "to send". In Christian cultures the term is most commonly used for Christian missions, but it applies equally to any creed or ideology. Missionary school means missionary's school, schools started and owned by a mission or missionary, but the teachers there may be missionary or non-missionary civil servants, or it may be all government civil servants.

Mission is a religious mission or mission station, a location for missionary work e.g. mission field, mission of education, hospital, social work etc. A place for missionary work. Mission school is the school where the missionary teachers worked. That should be the right word, a name or type of schools, where the missionary teachers worked or where the schools were started by Christian missionary, and the missionary work there. The schools where the nun, the Catholic brother/father, or other missionaries teach at the schools. All Convent schools are mission schools where the nuns worked as teachers in the schools. St Xavier's Institution is a mission school, but gradually less Catholic brothers are teaching there.

Mission schools are few now; most of them are now missionary schools.

The Missionary Schools

Missionary schools are schools built by Christian missionaries. Christian missionary activities often involve sending individuals and groups (called "missionaries"), to foreign countries and to places in their own homeland. This has frequently involved not only evangelization (in order to expand Christianity through the conversion of new members), but also humanitarian work, especially among the poor and disadvantaged. Missionaries have the authority to preach the Christian faith (and sometimes to administer sacraments), and provide humanitarian work to improve economic development, literacy, education, health care and orphanages. Christian doctrines (such as the "Doctrine of Love" professed by many missions) permit the provision of aid without requiring religious conversion.(source: wikipedia)

Missionaries of various Christian denominations, such as the Roman Catholic Josephian order and the Lasallian Brothers, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Brethren churches, started a series of mission schools in Malaysia. It provided primary and secondary education in the English language. Most of these were single-sex schools. Although nowadays they had fully assimilated into the Malay-medium national school system and most admit students regardless of gender and background (some single-sex schools remain), many of the schools still bear their original names today, such as the ones with the names of various saints or words such as “Katholik”, “Convent”, “Advent” and “Methodist”.

Mission schools though started by Christian missionaries, strove to provide education for all the people in the country regardless of race, religion, creed and social class or gender. Mission schools are popular for providing quality education, coupled with education for religious, moral and spiritual values. These values helped to build up generations of Malaysians that are tolerant with a strong spirit of service to society and the nation.

In the early years of independence, existing Chinese, Tamil and mission schools accepted government funding and were allowed to retain their medium of instructions on the condition that they adopt the national curriculum.

In the 1970s, in accordance to the national language policy, the government began to change English-medium primary and secondary national-type schools into Malay-medium national schools. The language change was made gradually starting from the first year in primary school, then the second year in the following year and so on. The change was completed by the end of 1982. From 1982, all missionary schools become Malay medium schools.

Now 410 schools remain throughout the country with 289 primary schools and 121 secondary schools. These schools, each with their different heritage, have contributed much to the building of Malaysia. In Penang, most of the missionary schools are by Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Brethren churches.

The missionary schools in Penang are:-

1. Methodist Boys' School or Sekolah Menengah Laki-Laki Methodist(established in 1891)
2. Methodist Girls' School or Sekolah Menengah Perampuan Methodist
3. St Mark, Butterworth or Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan St. Mark, Butterworth
4. Assumption
5. St Xavier's Institution
6. St Xavier's Primary School or Sekolah Kebangsaan St. Xavier Cawangan
7. Convent Light Street or Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Convent Light Street
8. Convent Pulau Tikus or Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Convent Pulau Tikue
9. Convent Green Lane or Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Convent Green Lane
10. Convent Butterworth or Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Convent Butterworth
11.Convent Dato Kramat or Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan Convent Datuk Keramat (槟城修道院国民型中学)
12. Convent Bukit Mertajam or Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Convent Bukit Mertajam
13. Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan Sacred Heart( 圣心国民型中学),
14. St George or Sekolah Kebangsaan Saint George, Balik Pulau
15. Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Methodist Nibong Tebal
16. Sekolah Kebangsaan Pykett Methodist
17. Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan (Cina) Heng Ee
18. Heng Ee High School(恒毅国民型中学)
19. Sekolah Kebangsaan St. Xavier, Pulau Tikus

(note: if any missing names, please inform)

However there were more missionary schools than that, some have been taken over by colonial government under statutory power,which is now government school, like Penang Free School, founded in 1816 by Sparke Hutchings, an Anglican chaplain. Schools like St George's Girls' School, nowadays known as SMK (Perempuan) St George, is a school for girls founded by Anglican missionaries in 1886, are now government public schools. Some schools have been involved by the missionary in fund raising or donation of land, or indirectly by the church or church members e.g. SRJK(C) Shang Wu, Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan (Cina) Union,Union High School( founded 1928 by some charitable Christian believers)etc

Many of the missionary schools left today are convent schools. Convent is an association of religious persons secluded from the world; an assembly or meeting; a body of monks, friars, or nuns; a company of twelve (or with a Superior, thirteen); an assemblage or gathering of people. In simplicity, convent is the building where nun lived(女修道院). Convent school is the school run by nuns(女修道院办的学校). In the Roman Catholic tradition, concern for female education has expressed itself in the foundation of religious orders, with ministries addressing the area. These include the Ursulines (1535) and the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (1849). A convent education is an education for girls by nuns, within a convent building. This was already being practiced in England before 1275, and later become more popular in France during the seventeenth century, and thereafter spread worldwide. Contemporary convent schools are not restricted to Catholic pupils. Students in contemporary convent education may be boys (particularly in India).

In his paper 'Christian Schools in Malaysia' released in 1986, (the late) David Boler outlined three distinct phases through which the mission schools have passed

The Phases of Mission Schools:-

1. Pre Merdeka Era( pre 1957)
The first phase, which Boler called the 'Pre-Merdeka Era', was when the Christian missionaries who established the schools also administered them. The Christian mission are fully involved in the schools, the political support from the colonist government, and nuns and missionary teachers are teaching in the schools. The medium of instruction was English, the standard of English was the best in the region. There are students from the schools who become English teachers in the region. This was the golden era of missionary schools. Many of the past leaders in Malaysia are from the period.

2. Unified Teaching Service(1957-1971)
Next, came the 'Unified Teaching Service' which was implemented following the Razak Report (KPM, 1956). Here, each school was responsible for selecting its own teachers through its Board of Governors. Many schools begin to provide residential accommodation for the students from the villages. The medium of instruction was English. This is the period of political adaptation to national policies and changes, a transition period.

3. Post Aziz Commission Era(Post 1971)
The third phase came with the recommendations made by the Aziz Commission (1971) where teachers would now become government servants and their appointment and deployment determined by the Teachers' Service Commission. After the national language policy in 1970, Malay language gradually replaced English as medium of instruction. It become the only medium of instruction in 1982. The NEP or New Economic Policy implemented in the period. The quality of the schools have declined.

Boler's analysis helps us understand better how the Christian ethos and traditions in mission schools have gradually eroded over the years. The loss of this original sense of identity of the mission schools has been so keenly felt that many of the mission authorities have begun rethinking the future of mission schools (Malaysian Lasallian Education Council, 2007).

Penang state government & Missionary schools

January 09, 2010 Uploaded by 5xmom

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng met with the headmasters and Parents-Teachers Association representative from 19 missionary schools in Penang. Some of the schools who were present at Komtar Level 5 Auditorium are Methodist Boys School, Methodist Girls School, St. Xavier Institution and primary schools, Convent Schools, Assumption and St. Marks

The purpose of the meeting with CM Lim Guan Eng, YB Chong Eng, YB Law Choo Kiang and committee members of the approving board is to brief the school heads on the application of fundings from the state government.

In 2009, a total of RM4.5 million was disbursed to the school for urgent repair works and also upgrading of the schools. In 2010, the State will allocate RM11.3 M to 124 schools in Penang

However, a few of the headmasters asked if they can also apply for funds to purchase computers, provide teachers training and etc. CM Lim said the state government will carry out proper auditing and hence, the funds are only for physical works such as school repairs and upgrading.

He was shocked to hear that the schools are paying some of the utilities bills which cost thousands of ringgit per month because these schools are charged the same rate as corporate sector. It was also revealed that teachers training allocation was drastically slashed in 2010.

CM Lim offered to help the schools to bring the appeal to the highest authorities to reduce the sewage charges. If need be, he said he will even bring it up in Parliament. He also assured the headmasters that the State Government will be able to provide tailor-made training for teachers as USM and other sources in Penang are able to provide skills training.

The Dilemma

The Missionary schools are facing dilemma, missionary schools now, being a national high schools/primary schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan/Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan), uses Malay as their medium of teaching instead of English, teachers in schools are civil servants, and the recent trends and reports of De-Cristianising by some civil servant teacher appointed as Headmaster. The worry that the identity of the missionary schools are fading. Some of the teachers did not understand the historical background of Missionary schools, and treated the schools like a normal public schools. The historical heritage status of the school cannot be removed, some of the school buildings are heritage buildings, and any ignorant civil servant will damage the historical value. There are documents, magazines, photos and manuscripts in the school premise or library are national heritage. Any administrator of the missionary schools should understand the history of missionary school, otherwise the preservation of the historical materials will be adversely affected.

Being a government public schools,the financial and government support of missionary schools is crucial. Are they having the same support as other non-missionary government schools?. The charging of corporate rate to utility bills of the missionary schools is not help to the school, but added financial burden to the school. Is the Missionary School private enterprise school or government school, that need clarification by the authority.... if not why the double standard of charging corporate rate for utility?(refer to dialogue with Chief Minister).

For the alumni and parents of the missionary schools, the quality of the education is the most crucial for them. Otherwise the reputation of the schools and the future student enrollment will be affected. To the Christian, and the mission that establish and support the school, to maintain the identity of the missionary school, in spirit and in its reputation as schools that provide quality education. The fate of the school chapel, Bible class, and the school society of Christian students(or Christian study) are the main concern.

In conclusion, the need to maintain the identity of missionary school, as its tradition and founding as missionary school.....

Related articles:

1. De-Cristianising Mission Schools?, ttp://
2. Recognising the Lasallians,
3. De La Salle brothers must find new ways to animate their schools ,
4. Which were the top 20 schools in the early years of the nation?,
5. The Mission to Reclaim Mission Schools,by Chan Geok Oon & Lim Boon Hock,

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