Interview by How Han Ming & Liew Kah Hoong
There are few people in the world who live by their exemplary ideals. Mr Anthony Loh Kung Sing is such a special person who chose to be a teacher. Here, in an interview with The Victorian, the passion that is Mr Loh's evinces a vision and an inspiration that transcend the compound of a once august school, the Victoria Institution.
Full Name: Loh Kung Sing
1. What did you like about the V.I.? Could you share with us an insight into the old VI?
I love the character of the school and its high aspirations. Students
back then showed plenty of initiative. They displayed esprit de corps that helped
to build up community. It is very sad that modern society lacks that sense of community
that brings people together and not allow themselves to be polarised.
2. What were your memorable moments in V.I.?
One was when we climbed Gunung Nuang. Although I was never in charge of the scouts, they wanted me to chaperon them on their excursions. It is with great satisfaction to watch these students grow up in different directions. One has become a very devout Buddhist lay person who helps run a free Buddhist old folks home. One of the students who worked on the flatworm parasite is a very successful career woman and grandmother in the USA. Being in touch with her brings back happy memories of teaching and learning science in the school. An awkward moment was when Mr. V. Murugasu – an old boy principal of VI, noted for a military style of discipline - told me, in front of my class, how good a teacher I was. I blushed. Many years later, when he met me in the shops, he said, “They should not have taken you out of the VI”. This is like receiving my full membership into the VI family!
3. What differences do you see between the old V.I. as compared to now?
A ‘kiasu’ mentality among the parents and school administration that drive their young to a piece of paper with 10 distinctions or more is so prevalent that there is little time left for extracurricular activities. The cleanliness competition, the elbow grease to polish the door hinges of the school hall, and the Scientific Victorian are just a few of the activities now missing. Students may pass examinations through rote learning inside the classroom. But better nourishment for growth and wisdom lies outside its walls.
4. Any suggestions to improve the current education system?
Examinations are necessary. Teachers are there to help prepare you for exams. But it is not the primary reason why we go to school. School is a very important part of our life journey. Our intellectual, mental, social and cultural demeanours are being extended at this stage. To realise our potential to the fullest, we need to discover and hone our talents. We do this well by learning from each other and sharing with each other in the school community. If we do not bond with each other and with our teachers then when we step on to the next stage of our life journey we may not bond well with fellow workers and fellow citizens. Esprit de corps built up in school leads on to the bigger picture of a one united nation of Malaysians, a nation that has a very rich cultural heritage drawn from diverse ethnic ancestry.
The Ministry of Education should not allow too many subjects in the major public examinations. Eight or nine should be the maximum. A core of four with a choice of four electives should be the norm. The Ministry of Education seems to have let the public schools (government sponsored) down by not encouraging or attracting talented young people to enter the teaching service by offering a good salary commensurate with their potential. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Fortunately, our teachers are generally well qualified and very dedicated.
Too many of our good teachers are underpaid. One of my teachers was too tired to give his best in the classroom as he was involved in a Pasar Malam business; another teacher had to make ends meet by doing the ghost shift at a petrol station. Quite a number of teachers give private tuition. Some overdo this to the detriment of their health and family life. Pay our teachers well and train them well so that they do not need to have two jobs. It is sheer laziness and lack of vision on the part of our leaders to pay lip service to education simply because the rich and fussy parents have a choice in the private schools. Well-educated citizens help the economy grow and put the country high up on the scale of the global economy. We should continue to teach Science, Mathematics and Technology in English. Then we would be a nation not only capable of competing on the global stage, but we would be renowned as a nation that can speak many languages. Our leaders have been too easily frightened by teething problems in the implementation of this policy. They forget that we also faced rather similar problems when we switched from English to Bahasa Malaysia. Reverting to BM in this matter will only benefit the private schools and the rich. We are depriving the poor and the rural folks the opportunity of progress.
5. Do you think that extra-curricular activities are important to students?
I have mentioned earlier how extracurricular activities of the old VI contributed to building a community that is truly bonded, student to student and student to teacher; and in turn everyone bonded to the bigger community within the school. Anyone so bonded at this stage of life will easily bond with the nation. Scouting, preparing the stage or special effects for a class performance, playing a musical instrument in the band, cheering your team on the sidelines, or playing centre field are some of the ways we learn to become one spirit and discover oneself in the process. Many parents and teachers think that such activities can be done without because they misunderstand the implication of the prefix “extra”.
6. What have you learned in the V.I. as a teacher that you have practised in your career and what are your principles in life?
I practised a modified form of the VI discipline at my schools. And I am happy that many of my former students have mentioned that the strict discipline helps them. Even though I was a principal I would go into all the form five classes once a week to teach them how to read. It was a challenge as I was using the Berita Harian as the basic material, a challenge because I was educated in the English medium. Nothing is impossible, as my VI students would say. Furthermore, I got to know the students well. I can even recall many faces and names of those who now communicate with me on the Facebook. Mr. Khoo Boo Keat was a very lovely young teacher who built up athletics at SM Sri Sentosa. With this comes bonding besides keeping fit and receiving accolades. Yes, the VI sporting spirit in all of us who passed through its corridors. And the school beat all the other boys and girls schools (including VI), except for the Royal Military College, as the boys there were better fed and did not have to spend time helping their parents run a stall in the local market. Many of us hold the misconception that progress means doing away with old things. That is not true. The past is a vital part of our heritage and we have to utilise this in order to grow. VI history makes rich instruction for a novice principal. VI has given me an attachment to some form of physical exercise to keep fit. I used to jog on the field. Jogging was then a new form of exercise in Kuala Lumpur. Now I practise a ten minute yoga and walk in the mornings. Be yet wiser should lead one ultimately in search of spiritual wisdom. Spiritual wisdom is the zenith of all wisdom. Sadly, most youth, especially those from privileged middle class families, think that they created themselves and that money is their god. In school, moral education is an attempt to promote spiritual wisdom, but it turns out to be just a way to be more knowledgeable, not wiser socially or spiritually. It is just an excuse for another distinction in the examinations.
7. What’s your perception on gangsterism in schools? How to handle it? Should we expel gangsters?
Gangsterism has always existed and will continue to exist in society. Much of the negative influence originates in the external environment. Gang leaders would try to recruit agents from schools. Extortion and fights are becoming more common among girls. Some school girls have even been lured into prostitution. Expulsion should be a last resort. If the culprit has been counselled and given the opportunity to remain in school, but does not reform and is not remorseful, and remains a threat to the other students, then the school may have no choice but to expel him. Full time school counsellors should involve family members of the gangster(s) and their peers in counselling sessions. Group dynamics sessions are a very useful tool. I wish schools had full time counsellors in my days. I remember fondly one of my teachers at SM Sri Sentosa, Mr Eng Eik Seng, who went to meet the leader (tai koh) of some gang that bothered our school. Mr. Eng told him that our teachers were busy teaching and guiding our students and did not have the time and energy to tackle gangsterism. This man left us in peace as he saw our sincerity in educating the students. He could see that we loved the poor and the rich students alike. All the students were given the same attention without discrimination. Cleanliness in that school was well known in the neighbourhood. One mid-day, while on my rounds, I was going out of the school gates. And lo and behold, hawkers in the vicinity were seen picking up rubbish when they saw me approaching. They knew our culture and routine, and this has rubbed off on them. Gangsters, too, have children in our schools. If we treat the poor and the rich, the good and the bad, with equity, and if we do not look down on the poor and do not favour the rich, I think gang leaders will learn to leave our schools in peace to educate their children.
8. How to get students to enjoy literature or master languages?
Many parents live inside a cloud because they think their children must become very computer literate from a very early age, otherwise they will lag behind the world. Many children, too early in their lives, are hooked on to satellite TV and the computer. Books take too much effort and are not “cool”. Reading becomes a no-go zone, especially when parents are never seen holding a book in their hands. They forget that the reading habit grows the basic foundations for learning. And it builds imaginative minds, too. Children should enjoy reading before we start them on the computer. To encourage reading there should be a public library in every large suburb (say, for every 200,000 residents). Mobile libraries should reach out to sparsely populated places. Itinerant librarians should be trained and funded to lead pre-school children in show and tell and acting sessions. This should also be done in schools, especially primary schools. In secondary schools we should have Literary and Debating Societies and Drama Clubs. Literature should come alive. For example, when we study Macbeth, literature students should analyse the lives of the characters and relate them to our political scenario. Or run a classroom production of Merchant of Venice in which we could focus on a greedy money lender and a good judge. Here is a good opportunity for the class to discuss lending without usury and what makes good judges. The students in such a class will learn to speak confidently. Perhaps some of them may even become lawyers.
9. What do you think was your greatest achievement in V.I.?
It is very heart-warming to see many of my VI students contributing to society voluntarily. One of them remarked that he is now doing national service after retiring from a successful career. This VI alumnus is Dato’ Agil Natt. Upon retirement from a successful career in banking he was entrusted to establish the International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance. Teaching is a two-way process. It blesses those who learn and those who teach. “Be Yet Wiser” has inspired me to learn more about the TRUTH. Not only in Christianity (my religion), but I have already ploughed through tomes of Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Shinto. And I am glad that I have not only read the Bible; but I have gone through the Quran, and the Bhagavad Gita to discover more about the Ultimate Reality. Apart from this theistic inclination, I find it also fascinating trawling through the minds of atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Chris Hitchens by reading their works. I thank the VI Spirit for firing me in this direction. Yes, the spirit for adventure and the thirst to check it out as my VI students would have said.
A few of my former VI students have divulged to me that they are also following a similar trail. One of them a staunch Buddhist, another a good Hindu. The science of inquiry has really gone into their inner reservoir. Another good outcome, rather than labelling it the greatest achievement, would be the remedy to an apparent leakage of a practical biology examination preparations instructions. The boys kept fishing for confirmation by prompting me with the names of specimens that their girl friends had found out. I feared for them as examination candidates with such information fail to read the questions properly, making irrelevant observations. They would inevitably regurgitate verbatim without reading the questions a second or third time, which they should. Or their observations and answers would go askew. So, I went back to the drawing board, and substituted the specimens with items that they had not seen before, but had beautiful features to be observed and commented on just using the usual observation skills. I knew they could do the right thing. This is intellectual honesty. They did extremely well, beyond my expectations.
10. Lastly, do you have any advice for the current Victorians?
To be inspired, you need to inspire others. Get involved in the total learning experience in and out of your classroom. Motivate your teachers to inspire you. Always aim high. Be intellectually honest and disciplined. Have an inquiring mind. Be a member of a team. Move the team as if you are playing scrum in rugby. If the mountain does not come to you, go to the mountain. Take the initiative whether you are a member of a house, a scout or an athlete. Gain a new experience every day. It is all right to make mistakes. Do not discard the mistakes. Learn from them. Be gracious when you are successful. Be humble. Play fair. Be thoughtful. Share what you have. Learn from others. Help one another. You need the support of community to grow. And they need you to support them. Discover your full potential doing things. Enjoy what you do.
Last update 31 May 2011.
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