Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz & 3 Other Alumni Of Convent Bukit Nanas On The Legacy Of The Educational Institution

These successful ladies share what one of the oldest schools in Malaysia means to them

Update: According to a report in The Star on April 22, 2021, the Prime Minister Office has issued a statement that the land lease for Convent Bukit Nanas has been extended for another 60 years. The statement said: “The government looked into the application by the Convent Bukit Nanas’ board to extend the land lease where the school is located. After reviewing the matter and taking into consideration the school’s contribution towards national education since 1899, the government has agreed for the lease to be extended by 60 years.”

It came to light recently that the government did not renew the lease of SMK Convent Bukit Nanas’s (CBN) land, which expires on September 6, 2021. The school applied for a judicial review with the High Court, which will be heard on May 4, 2021.

Later, it was reported that the Federal Territories Land and Mines Office will not ask the school to vacate to make way for any redevelopment. According to its director Datuk Muhammad Yasir Yahya, the lease was not renewed to allow the school to be gazetted as an educational institution that is fully government aided. 

“Right now, CBN is partially aided and it is a very old school, and it will benefit more if it is made a fully aided government institution,” he was quoted in The Star. The newspaper also reported that Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa has expressed his intention to meet with the CBN Sisters to discuss how he can help to preserve the 122-year-old school.

ABOVE File photo of Convent Bukit Nanas in 1988 (Photo: Courtesy of Badan Warisan Malaysia)

Founded in 1899 by the nuns of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus, Convent Bukit Nanas is one of the oldest schools in Malaysia. The all-girls school has produced a number of luminaries in various fields, among them former minister of international trade and industry Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, social entrepreneur Sasibai Kimis, filmmaker Zabrina Fernandez, singer-comedienne Adibah Noor.

They share, in their own words, with Tatler Malaysia their thoughts on the matter and also how CBN has shaped them into who they are today.

Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz (Years attended: 1951 – 1953 and 1956 – 1958)

CBN had much to do in shaping my life values. The school’s motto is ‘Simple in Virtue, Steadfast in Duty’, which is something I try my best to adhere. It helped shape my life compass and understand responsibilities in life. The discipline inculcated was legendary and while the overall environment in the school was happy, cheerful and conducive for forging strong bonds of friendship, there was no tolerance for going out of line. In fact, the school had a notice board that listed movies playing in cinemas along with classifications like ‘Allowed’, ‘Parental Permission’ and ‘Prohibited and Banned’.

There are many memories that I still hold dear: the annual pantomimes and concerts, the dedicated teachers, the canteen that served 10 sen curry mee. Today I am part of a WhatsApp group called ‘The Pioneer Friends’, which is multi-racial and multi-religion. We communicate on a daily basis apart from having the occasional get-togethers. We’re heading into our 80s and we still maintain our friendship!

CBN is a highly regarded educational institution since 1899, long before the independence of our nation. We cannot allow any reason by anyone to sully its reputation and prevent it from expanding its educational reach. The government should assist the convent—and also each and every school in the country—to upgrade the delivery of education in particular to successfully meet the new imperatives of the challenging domestic, regional and global environment. 

The best thing to do now is for the government to give freehold status to the disputed parcel so that CBN can continue to contribute to educational excellence, secure in the fact that there will be no more uncertainties pertaining to land ownership. Like so many, I feel a mix of anger and incredulity that the authorities cannot do what is right.

Zabrina Fernandez (Years attended: 1986 – 1996)

ABOVE Photo: Courtesy of Zabrina Fernandez

I’m furious that we’re disregarding another important part of our heritage and history. Why have we not learnt from other countries that have placed value on heritage buildings and sites? What will our country’s identity be if we keep replacing everything with something new. And why is CBN not gazetted and protected as a heritage site? It was built in 1899, well over 100 years now.

People come and go but architecture provides a living timeline to the evolution of our country. Imagine what Dataran Merdeka would look like without the Sultan Abdul Samad building. There is national pride and identity associated with the architecture from the past as we continue to build the present. 

I have so many memories of my alma mater. It’s where I started my love for writing. During Standard 6, a bunch of us started a monthly newsletter and called it The Sixers. Our headmistress at that time, Sister Anne Marie, was so pleased with our endeavour that she contributed RM50 to ensure its continuation. 

I remember in primary school, we would always have to perform in front of the school either at the White Hall or the Red Hall. And it really helped boost everyone’s creativity and confidence. We could come up with just about anything — once, we did a dance and twirled pens (instead of batons) to Belinda Carlisle!

In high school, I made lifelong friends. I was never very good in my studies but I loved school because it offered so much more than what was taught through books. I was a school photographer, played softball, wrote scripts and directed dramas. Every memory needs a home and CBN holds too many memories for so many of us. I hope they don’t tear it down.

Sasibai Kimis (Years attended: 1986 – 1990)

This school is one of the oldest schools in Malaysia and has shaped some of the brightest minds in the nation. The legacy of this bastion of education must not be lost. The teachers at the school have moulded the characters of thousands of young women who have and continue to contribute to this nation. Let’s not let this legacy die.

The teachers and principals were so dedicated. I remember Mrs Lim who taught us to sew, cross stitch, and cursive handwriting. I owe my handwriting to her. And Mrs Ng made learning so fun and encouraged us to be proud being girls, to confidently pursue our dreams and not be confined by gender norms.

The school also has a centre for differently abled children on the premise, which certainly shaped me to be more open and made me a better human being. 

It was a truly muhibbah school. Different social groups ate, played and learned together. For some reason, I also remember our school assemblies and special events we had in these two big halls called the White and Red Halls. I have many fond memories of sitting in these halls with friends playing, talking, exercising… It was sort of our social space where we hung out during recess. I also remember the tiles on the floors, the beautiful staircases, the overall architecture of the building. It was a joy to walk those corridors. 

Adibah Noor (Years attended: 1977 – 1987)

I was the kind of kid who preferred to go to school than stay home. It was a place where I could be myself, where I could shape my interests through co-curricular activities. Apart from academic achievements, CBN was a tough competitor in sports and other activities; our school choir was one of the best in KL then.

CBN taught girls to be independent and to just go for it. We had each other to empower us. Much of my growth and personality were developed at CBN. 

I personally feel that the school should have been recognised as a heritage site a long time ago. There’s just so much history; besides, Bukit Nanas has a forest reserve. I owe much of what I am now to that school. 

See Original: Cheong, B., & Jayatilaka, T. (2021, April 22). Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz & 3 Other Alumni Of Convent Bukit Nanas On The Legacy Of The Educational Institution. Tatler Asia.