A Desperate Mission

THE 56 convent schools nationwide, which are run by the Infant Jesus Sisters (IJS), are in desperate need of financial support with at least 90% of the school buildings in dilapidated conditions in the absence of sufficient maintenance funds.

Many of these highly regarded convent schools were built over 100 years ago, with the first IJS school as well as orphanage set up in Light Street, George Town, in 1852.

Storied school: Convent Light Street was set up in 1852, the first IJS convent school in the country. Many of these highly regarded mission schools were built over 100 years ago. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

At least two schools caught fire recently as they had to cope with roof leaks, wiring and plumbing issues, and even floods.

In a rare interview, Sister Mary Theresa Chua, the Provincial of the IJS – which is legally known as the Lady Superior of the Society of Saint Maur – says the estimated RM3mil annual grants from the Education Ministry (MOE) for all 56 schools would only be enough for basic maintenance, working out to around “RM50,000 to RM70,000 for each school’’.

“The buildings are very old and daily use, with minimal repairs, has taken a toll. In short, the yearly government allocation is barely enough to cover repairs and maintenance costs as we always must rely on donors and carry out fund-raising initiatives,’’ she says.

For example, she points out how the authorities have yet to carry out repair work on the slope bordering the 123-year-old Convent Bukit Nanas after a landslip in February this year. The site borders the Kuala Lumpur Forest Eco Park, and Sister Theresa fears that the ongoing wet spell and the year-end rainy season would be a problem.

Sister Theresa: ‘The yearly government allocation is barely enough to cover repairs and maintenance costs and the schools have to rely on donors and raise funds themselves.’

In 2020, a landslip also hit the school, which was established in 1899, after heavy rain caused a near collapse of a retaining wall.

Sister Theresa describes the plight of convent schools in Malaysia, which have produced hundreds of thousands of students including prominent figures, as desperate.

“We are in dire straits. We have no one to turn to and we pray that our problems, especially involving the safety of our students and teachers, will be heard,’’ she says.

Sister Theresa explains insurance premiums are not covered by the government and “when any unfortunate incident happens, the Sisters are left to handle and manage them”.

“Often, the Sisters have no means to make proper major repairs as evidenced in the latest Convent Bukit Nanas landslip.

“What makes no sense is that the landslip was due to the Forestry Department felling trees and cutting through the hillslope, thus loosening the soil and affecting water flow resulting in the clogging and retention of mud, which in turn blocks drains so that water is not able to flow,’’ she adds.

Sister Theresa says there is an urgent need for the MOE to meet Mission school authorities to talk about critical building issues, such as, for example, electrical appliances like airconditioners, computers and projectors that have led to capacity overload.

“We are in a dilemma. Most of these schools are over 100 years old and cannot cater for high voltage use.

“However, digital equipment is necessary in the current era and environment for teaching purposes,” she notes.

To support the Convent schools -– OCBC Bank Bhd, Account No : 701-157675-5

For more information, also call Sr Theresa Chua, Tel- 03-20318243 or 03-20780615

See Original: Chun Wai, W. (2022, August 7). A Desperate Mission. The Star.

A long and distinguished history

CONVENT schools in Malaysia have a distinguished history dating back to the 19th century. They have iconic heritage buildings and have produced many prominent personalities over the decades.

The 170-year-old Convent Light Street (CLS) in Penang is the oldest girls’ school in South-East Asia and is located in a heritage zone.

Founded by French Catholic nuns in 1852, it is one of the most highly regarded missionary schools in the state. However, in the past decade, CLS has been hit by declining enrolment thanks to competition from international and Chinese schools.

Convent schools were once premier schools that used the English language as the medium of education, and were known for producing well-rounded students who excelled academically as well as in sports and music.

The three founding nuns were part of a group of five who managed to make it to Penang alive after the arduous journey from France via Singapore.

The sprawling CLS grounds were also home to the administrative offices of Captain Francis Light after he founded George Town in 1786. Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, also worked at Government House in the CLS grounds. Penang, then known as the Prince of Wales Island, was his first overseas posting.

Convent Bukit Nanas (CBN) in Kuala Lumpur is also one of the oldest schools in Malaysia – established in 1899 – and is one of the first schools to be distinguished as a Cluster School of Excellence by the Education Ministry

Its alumni includes former minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, Tengku Permaisuri Norashikin Abdul Rahman of Selangor, Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus, prominent lawyers Raja Eleena Almarhum Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah Al-Maghfur-lah and Ambiga Sreenevenan and the late singer Adibah Noor.

CLS has its list of famous alumni too, such as Datuk Ooi Chean See, Malaysia’s first woman orchestra conductor; Datuk Ng Poh Tip ,The Star’s first woman group chief editor; and Datin Paduka Tunku Khadijah Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, our first prime minister’s daughter, who studied as a full-time boarder in CLS.

See Original: Wong, C. W. (2022, August 7). A long and distinguished history. The Star.

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