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ImageEducation has been one of  the priorities of the Malaysian Church ever since the arrival of the first Catholic Missionaries to the country. The earlier missionaries not only established churches but also set up schools to assist them in their work of evangelisation. After years of  untiring efforts by  Fr. Beurel who would not take “no” for an answer persuaded the Superiors of two Teaching Congregations namely, the Sisters of the Infant Jesus and the La Salle Brothers to set up their first schools in Singapore and Penang in 1852. As the years went by the Brothers and Sisters began to extend their educational work  to other parts of the country. Soon  the schools conducted by the Religious and Priests were known as Catholic Schools.
Apart from the imparting secular knowledge, the Teaching Congregations also provided opportunities for the learning and practice of the Catholic Faith. In other words these schools became centers of Catholic Education and were undeniably Catholic. Seeing that the Catholic schools were also providing moral instruction to the students, many non-Christian parents also wanted their children to benefit by such instruction and  encouraged their children to attend religious classes so that they might grow up as responsible and God-fearing citizens.
               
Speaking of the role played by the Catholic schools, an account reads: “The aim of the Mission (Catholic) Schools was to secure for all students an all-round education with special emphasis on moral training and character formation. The high educational standards and ideals of the sound moral training characteristic of  these schools from the very beginning, secured such esteem and demand that people of all races and religions .. were generous in helping to provide the Mission with land and assist in the building of these schools in various parts of the country.”  Generally speaking, the Catholic schools enjoyed the support from of all sectors of the community.
               
The Catholic schools gave first place to God at all times and showed reverence for the  person of the students as a child of God. The quality and achievement of the Past Pupils of these schools bear testimony to the vital importance of instilling good moral values, loyalty and discipline in their students during the course of their schooling.
Popularity of Catholic Schools
With the arrival of members of other Teaching Congregations, such as the  Marist Brothers, the Franciscan Missionaries of  Mary, the Montfort Brothers, the Canossians Daughters of Charity, the Brothers of St. Gabriel, saw a further increase in the number of Catholic Schools throughout the country, especially in the middle the twentieth century. At this time it became apparent that there should be a professional body to coordinate the educational affairs of these schools. Such a body was formed in 1950 under the  name of the Guild of Assisted Catholic Schools (GACS).
               
Some of the objectives of this educational body were to build a staff who were creative, dedicated and open to changes and who would achieve a high degree of professionalism and who would be an example and inspiration to their students.
               
In order to prepare Teachers to continue the aims and objectives of the Catholic Schools, two Teachers’ Colleges were also established – The St. Joseph’s Teachers College in Penang for  men by the  La Salle Brothers and the Teachers’ College at Bukit Nanas women  by the Sisters of the Infant Jesus.
               
These Colleges were fully recognized by the Ministry of Education and followed the curriculum set for Government Teachers’ Colleges in the country. As expected, these Colleges were run very efficiently and were highly regarded for their academic preparation. Ordinarily, the religious Congregations selected the candidates for these Colleges who after their graduation were  posted back to their former schools.


Such postings helped in filling the needed manpower in the Catholic schools  as well as to maintain the Christian atmosphere that was characteristic of these schools. The graduates from the above Colleges also had the added advantage of having had two years of religious training in the teaching of religious knowledge, which helped them to become qualified teachers of religion.

Unfortunately these Colleges were short-lived. The authorities felt that such distinctively Christian colleges did not have a place within the National Education policies of the country. This led to the closure of the Bukit Nanas Teachers’ College in 1966 and St. Joseph’s Teachers’ College in 1970.

Policy changes by the Ministry of Education with regard to Catholic Schools slowly began to have adverse affect on the performance of the Guild of Assisted Catholic Schools.  The administrative climate in the Catholic Schools also saw marked changes from what it was several decades earlier. There came the realisatioin that although the Guild had done its “job well” there was no guarantee it would be able to function effectively in the future. The Guild of Assisted Catholic Schools was therefore formally dissolved with much regret.

The Aziz Commission
Teachers who had been serving in Mission Schools generally came under various different categories and salary schemes. However, following the offer of special benefits to teachers in the Mission Schools by the Aziz Commission,  most teachers from Mission Schools opted to become Government Servants . This meant that the teachers in Mission Schools no longer came under the direct control of the Christian Missions, and conversely, the Mission could not exercise full control over the teachers in their schools. This also meant that the teachers in the Mission Schools could be transferred to other schools in the country. In other words, it spelt the end of an era where the Missions were free to employ their own teachers.

The first transfers of former Mission School teachers to Government Schools came at the end of 1972. These teachers were replaced, in most cases, with teachers who have had no connection with Christian Schools. This was the beginning of the erosion of the Special Character that the Christian Missions had jealously guarded since their first foundation.

The Aziz Commission also placed the Brothers and Sisters  under the X Category – X1 for graduates and X2 for non-graduates. The X Category did not grant any privilege to those under this classification. The Religious however continued to receive a fixed monthly “allowance” which was much less than those of their counterparts working in Government schools.. The Religious were neither pensionable nor entitled to a gratuity on their retirement  nor enjoyed any medical benefits. They were however permitted to serve till the age of 65 provided they enjoyed good health.

The privilege to serve till the Religious reached the age of 65 suddenly came to an end when the Ministry of Education decided to reduce their retirement from 65 to 55 in1988. This meant that those Religious who had passed the age of 55 and who still served as Principals in their schools were forced to retire following the directive of the Ministry. This brought about much confusion and hardship to the Religious when they were removed from the administrative posts at short notice.
Contributed by
Bro. Cassin Pappu FSC
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