UCA News
Contribute

Slow death of Christian mission schools in Malaysia

The only viable solution seems to be turning them into private schools offering an international curriculum
High school students wear face masks in a classroom on the first day after schools reopened following restrictions to halt the spread of Covid-19 in Kuala Lumpur on June 24, 2020. There are more than 10,000 schools in Malaysia, of which Christian churches run 424 that serve just 4 percent of the total student enrolment, according to a 2021 report by the Federation of Christian Mission Schools Malaysia

High school students wear face masks in a classroom on the first day after schools reopened following restrictions to halt the spread of Covid-19 in Kuala Lumpur on June 24, 2020. There are more than 10,000 schools in Malaysia, of which Christian churches run 424 that serve just 4 percent of the total student enrolment, according to a 2021 report by the Federation of Christian Mission Schools Malaysia. (Photo: AFP)

Published: September 12, 2023 11:36 AM GMT
Updated: September 14, 2023 01:20 AM GMT

The glory days of mission schools in Malaysia have long gone. Christian institutions that produced generations of Malaysian movers and shakers are either close to death or heading there. They no longer offer quality education, which once was the backbone of Malaysia’s development, and are now struggling.

There are more than 10,000 schools in Malaysia, of which Christian churches run just 424. Christian schools, also called mission schools, have fewer than 200,000 students and serve only 4 percent of the total student enrolment, according to a 2021 report by the Federation of Christian Mission Schools Malaysia (FCMSM).

Just before World War II, mission schools accounted for about 78 percent of Malaysia’s total student enrolment.

“It is tempting to let mission schools die a slow death through benign neglect,” the federation said in a written response to UCA News. 

Christian Churches in Malaysia “are doing their best under very challenging circumstances to enable the remaining mission schools to continue to be a valuable part of the national education system,” the federation said.

The federation represents all the 25 mission authorities in Malaysia, who own the mission schools, including Catholic, Methodist, Protestant, and Anglican dioceses and religious orders.

"The years after independence saw them progressively losing authority in their schools"

The first mission school was set up more than 200 years ago and the numbers grew fast. They were mainly in urban areas largely populated by ethnic Chinese and Indians who saw them as the gateway to a better life. Accessibility was an issue for rural area folk who were mainly Malays.

This racial mix made some believe that colonial education caused socioeconomic differences between races. The schools were also accused of promoting foreign Christian values and ignoring native values. This made many suspicious of missionaries.

Before independence, mission schools were allowed to be set up and administered by the mission authorities and they used an international curriculum. The years after independence saw them progressively losing authority in their schools. The schools came under the government in the 1970s.

The language of instruction for English-medium mission schools was changed to Malay. Staff appointments, student admission, school syllabus, and the use of the school buildings and facilities came under the purview of the education ministry.

Mission schools are now run by a board of governors and one of the few liberties left is that they can appoint their own principals.

Mission schools are partially funded by the government where they get a budget allocation that is barely enough to pay utility bills and upkeep. Funds are hard to get for major repairs needed by these schools, many of which are more than 100 years old.

“Mission schools have had no special department in the ministry or specially appointed officer to look after their affairs. Neither do Mission Authorities have any political influence because they have stayed away from any political involvement. Mission schools often became silent victims of educational policies detrimental to their interests,” said Yap in his report.

The force of Islamisation in education was hard to hold back. “Islamisation programs will continue to be infused into the formal and informal curriculum,” said the report.

“Such trends will be very difficult to reverse and ultimately there will be no rational reason for mission authorities to hold out with regards to mission schools becoming more and more Islamic in character. A continuing Christian presence in mission schools will no longer be justifiable or viable,” it added.

Then there is the issue of a shrinking number of Christian teachers.

"Schools have had to tussle with developers or government officials to hold on to their land"

Yap observed that since the 1980s, many young Christian people have avoided joining the teaching profession because of the opportunities to join other professions that are more glamorous or financially rewarding.

Nga Johnson, a retired mission school principal said the Christian community also failed in encouraging young people to see teaching as a call to serve God. Most Christian Fellowship or Young Catholic Students or Boys Brigade groups in mission schools have been closed down because there is no teacher to run them, she said.

Almost all mission schools are on prime urban land on government lease, and schools have had to tussle with developers or government officials to hold on to their land. Many schools have lost the battle and one almost did two years ago but public pressure forced the government to allow the school to renew its land lease.

Most schools have been on long leases of 60 years or so. Malaysia’s Land Acquisition Act empowers the government to take over the land when the long leases expire. Under this Act, the government can compulsorily acquire any piece of land.

The other problem is that of waning student enrolment. It is more convenient for parents to enroll their children in schools built in their housing areas than to drive through traffic-choked city centers where most mission schools are.

Malaysia’s oldest all-girls school, Penang's Convent Light Street, closed down recently after years of shrinking student enrolment and the property was returned to the landowners, the Infant Jesus Sisters.

The nuns now plan to run it as a private school offering an international curriculum.

This seems like the only viable solution for mission schools — turning them into private schools and broadening one’s own perspectives to explore a symbiotic relationship with a globalized society.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Trafficking is one of the largest criminal industries in the world, only outdone by drugs and arms trafficking, and is the fastest-growing crime today.
Victims come from every continent and are trafficked within and to every continent. Asia is notorious as a hotbed of trafficking.
In this series, UCA News introduces our readers to this problem, its victims, and the efforts of those who shine the light of the Gospel on what the Vatican calls “these varied and brutal denials of human dignity.”
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
Publisher
UCA News
comment

Share your comments

17 Comments on this Story
DAVID
Has this been fact checked? I seriously recommend the removal of this article for the claims to be verifiec first.
WILLIAM ARUL
David, so what is it that you know that might cast any kind of doubt on the "facts" enunciated in this article. I am in some ways involved in a mission school. From everything that I have encountered I cannot see any fact that might be wrong.
SIEHJIN
i'm a malaysian and it rings true to me.
LIM
The article cited the 2021 FCMSM report and interviews with authorities on the subject matter such as Yap Kok Keong (founding chairman of FCMSM and founder of TCF and MCSM) and Nga Johnson (retired school principal). The article is spot on.
SIEHJIN
Oh, hey, i just got some info regarding this... apparently i commented too quickly earlier. 1. Mr Yap Kok Keong claims that he never spoke to the writer of this article. 2. Mr Yap also says that he was misattributed to be the "founding Chairman of FCMSM, TCF and even MCSC," which reflects the fact that the author does not really know the history of these organisations. 3. Additionally, Mr Yap says that this article quotes him out of context. 4. Furthermore, Mr Yap finds that the article contains many generalisations which are counter-productive and undermine our efforts to safeguard and promote fruitful and good relationship with MOE and other Education Authorities. 5. Lastly, Mr Yap wishes to clarify with FCMSM, MCSC and TCF that I have nothing to do with this questionable article.
WILLIAM ARUL
There was a time when international schools were for children of parents from abroad. Yet today we see the proliferation of international schools around the country for foreigners and citizens. And I ask why when this seems to contradict the stated policies of the government's, past and present. It's all nice and wonderful championing national education as represented by the policies and the education system we now have. The demand for vernacular schools, looked at another way, represents a rejection of the national education curriculum by those who can at not much of a higher cost to them. Going international curriculum for mission schools goes against one of the most important ethos it provides in, "Education for All"! Sadly, letting things continue only means the cultivation of a new economic class that is material in size that any race based differentiation will now be replaced by an elite class. What is worse can we expect the best of our students in these international schools to come back to serve in this country? I believe the mission schools can still serve in delivering "Education for All". This can be done with the support of the government as well. But the mission schools have to go independent. Determine their own curriculum and set their own enrollment standards. Promote the charter school system. A viable fee does not have to be as high as what is presently charged by even the cheapest of international schools. The community, made up of industry and commerce, the government as well as parents pay towards the education of the children. Children residing within a certain radius of the school should be given the right to attend the school. Anyone outside that boundary can be made to pay at commercial rates. But these are matters that can't be deliberated at a later stage. Not now. I also realise getting past the mission authorities would be the biggest hurdle.
P J
I share the same perspective as William Arul. My profession is within the private education sector, and I've encountered many Christian parents who come from affluent backgrounds. Interestingly, a majority of these parents have chosen to enroll their children in international schools. While they often express a desire for a "better" education, it becomes evident that their true intention is to provide a high-end, private education for their kids. The Methodist Council of Education takes great pride in its current portfolio of private schools and aims to expand it in the name of education. The private WMS schools boast modern facilities and cutting-edge technologies. In stark contrast, numerous government secondary schools affiliated with the Methodist church are in a state of disrepair, with little effort being made to improve them. Meanwhile, substantial profits are being generated from their private schools and college. Recent developments include the conversion of a historic primary school in Penang into a college, and there are reports that another nearby primary school in KL, located adjacent to the college, is also deteriorating and will be absorbed by the college. Despite the council's claim that these privatization efforts are driven by educational purposes, it is apparent that they are primarily motivated by a quest for recognition and financial gain. Regrettably, I recall a time when one of the schools in the Northern states was considered one of Malaysia's top educational institutions. The issue lies not in the shortage of teachers or students, but rather in the church's evolving mission and its shift away from its original purpose.
P J
I share the same perspective as William Arul. My profession is within the private education sector, and I've encountered many Christian parents who come from affluent backgrounds. Interestingly, a majority of these parents have chosen to enroll their children in international schools. While they often express a desire for a "better" education, it becomes evident that their true intention is to provide a high-end, private education for their kids. The Methodist Council of Education takes great pride in its current portfolio of private schools and aims to expand it in the name of education. The private WMS schools boast modern facilities and cutting-edge technologies. In stark contrast, numerous government secondary schools affiliated with the Methodist church are in a state of disrepair, with little effort being made to improve them. Meanwhile, substantial profits are being generated from their private schools and college. Recent developments include the conversion of a historic primary school in Penang into a college, and there are reports that another nearby primary school in KL, located adjacent to the college, is also deteriorating and will be absorbed by the college. Despite the council's claim that these privatization efforts are driven by educational purposes, it is apparent that they are primarily motivated by a quest for recognition and financial gain. Regrettably, I recall a time when one of the schools in the Northern states was considered one of Malaysia's top educational institutions. The issue lies not in the shortage of teachers or students, but rather in the church's evolving mission and its shift away from its original purpose.
SIEHJIN
this paints the methodist church in a rather negative light. i do not believe that the church is motivated by monetary gain. we (for i too am a methodist, and i grew up in a methodist school in sitiawan) do see education as a mission, but as long as the schools are under government control, it is difficult for us to maintain the christian ethos of the schools. Apart from international schools, perhaps the mission schools could consider becoming private schools which use the national curriculum. they would still be subject to some govt directives, but would have greater freedom in teacher recruitment and etc.
GEH SOON EE
I agree with you in all that you say. Wherever possible, convert mission schools into international schools with the appropriate curriculum. The standard of education of the national schools has deteriorated so terribly, many parents are seeking private schools where their children can get proper education of world standard to stay relevant.
NIK
And say, "Truth has come, and falsehood has departed. Indeed is falsehood, [by nature], ever bound to depart." (Quran 17:81)
THE ONE
Lol people quoting old books that have irrelevant things . No wonder Malaysia is declining .. let’s see how all these words are going to help you in the future ????. God dosent need your worship and your piety because it has no meaning. It’s just for the people who can’t live in god that all these fake messages were written. Do not dwell under relegion because then you are nothing more than a slave to laws. Dwell in his and the world will show it’s true colors.
DIDI
O People of the Book(Bible)! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of God aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of God, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in God and His messengers. Say not "Trinity": desist: it will be better for you: for God is one God: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is God as a Disposer of affairs.- Holy Quran the final authentic testament And behold! God will say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God?" He will say: "Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.- Holy Quran the final authentic testament
ADLERAUGEN
Nowhere in the Bible did Jesus say “worship my mother”. I dunno what you are talking about. And what’s the point of quoting Scriptures not relevant to the subject matter under discussion.
JUSTACOMMENT
I've been closely following the conversations about this article. I know emotions can run high, but let's remember that we're all part of the same community at the end of the day. Malaysia has always been a beautiful blend of cultures and beliefs. Even if we see things differently, let's never forget to approach each other with love and understanding. Regardless of which God is greater, the one lesson persists: "Love". So let's love our neighbours as our own. The situation with the Mission Schools has been challenging and will continue to be. Fight in love and respect, and God will be sure to provide.
STEVEN K C POH
This is what happens when you decide to tinker and mess round with a system that has worked for decades in the name of ketuanan Melayu.
NATS
Any ex Principals or Supervisors in need of a job overseas?
Asian Bishops
Latest News
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia