Thursday, October 25, 2007

What Makes A School Great

The following are important factors that make a school great.

The founding vision of the School The building of its tradition Instilling into the teachers and students the right spirit. Dedicated & great principals and teachers Good students to produce Great Alumni

These are the pillars on which a school is built. Its greatness depends on the efforts put in by everybody involved in building of the school over the years. Everybody who has been with the school, the policy makers, headmasters, teachers, students through their activities and achievements contribute in the making of the image and reputation of the school. It requires a constant positive input from everyone involved to build and maintain the greatness of the school. The Penang Free School has gained this reputation not only in Malaysia but also abroad. The Singapore Old Frees contributed much to their new found home, Singapore. We must continue to do this and more to remain proud of being an Old Free.

History of Penang Free School.

The Penang Free School (PFS) is the oldest English School in Malaysia and the S.E.A. region. The School was founded on October 21 in 1816 and is located in the island of Penang. The word Free is important to many as it reflects the founding vision of the School. Being Free liberates everybody involved with it from being stereotyped by race, creed, economic or social standing. We are equals in the eyes of the school. We have to prove our worth. The School gained the reputation of being the institution for the best of our junior school students in Penang. Gaining admission to the school fulfils the dreams of many parents for the children.

Instilling the right spirit to the students.

The School's motto Fortis Atque Fidelis (Strength with Fidelity) and the School's rally song , (reproduced below) which we sang every year on Founder's Day, and on special functions inspire and fire up the young minds to do many things which we might not have done otherwise.

School Rally Song

It matter neither how strait the gate,
Nor how charged with dangers the goal,
Let the tempest rage and fell odds inflate,
We'll do it with our heart and soul.

Let us march unto fame,
Let the aisles proclaim,
Till our anthem will dare us to do,
Let us onward to win and new laurels gain,
Free School for the brave and the true.

In addition to this my headmasters Mr. L.W.Arnold (1940) and Mr. D. Roper (1946) reminded us that our Founder's Day, 21 October, is also the day that Admiral Lord Nelson defeated the combined superior French and Spanish Armada at the battle of Trafalgar . Although terribly outnumbered in ships and men England won the battle and this was attributed to the famous message Nelson gave to his men at that time:
" England expects every men to do his duty."

The Frees , young and old, are also expected to do their duty wherever they are at all times to win the many battles that had to be fought.

What did the school do for me?

I had some great teachers who not only taught me how to pass examinations but also helped me in many other ways. Mr. Ng Chong Weng, my Pinhorn House sports master, saved me the long walk from the school to the bus stop at Green Lane by dropping me at the nearest point to my home in town. Mr.Ooi Khay Bian (OKB) supported my request to be exempted from the Science classes so that I could use the time saved to do my home work and other studies in school as I had to teach to earn extra money for the family. I was the only student given this exemption. This incident has particular significance to my life. I would not be what I am, a man of science, who has used his science training for the development of our scientific manpower and industries through education and its application in Singapore.

Here is the story of this incident.

As my Senior Cambridge results were very good I cheekily decided to apply for a scholarship to study Science and not Arts in Raffles College. I took a big risk as I would have a better chance of getting a scholarship in Arts, without which I could not have gone for further studies. Risk taking, part of my PFS training? I expected the headmaster and my form teacher Mr. Ooi (OKB) to fall off their chairs with my request as I was the only student exempted from the science classes during 1947. They did not. They must have supported my application strongly as I was awarded the prestigious Raffles Scholarship. Such instances cannot happen in modern times! This is "flexibility" on the part of a headmaster of a great school and I am grateful. I ended up practicing science all my life in numerous capacities. I became the first chairman of the Singapore Science Council for 10 years, an advisory body to the Singapore government on science after Singapore's independence! I was also founder chairman and CEO of the Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research (SISIR) for 18 years besides many other appointments and involvement in many other activities
It will be interesting to hear from other Singapore Old Frees how the PFS has made a difference to their lives. This can be an encouragement if not an inspiration for the young Frees to look out for the things that they may have taken for granted.

Alumni of The Penang Free School.

PFS, formed the backbone of Malaysia's education. It educated many generations of rulers, Malaysia's first Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, law makers, professionals and people of social standing in Malaysia. PFS can boast of being the Alma Mater of many well known and successful alumni all over the world. This includes the world renown Plague fighter, the late Dr. Wu Lien The, who also pioneered the modernization of China's public health system.

Singapore has its share of talented and dedicated Old Frees. In the 1940's to 1960's the Chief Justice, the Attorney General and seven out of the eight High Court Judges were Old Frees. The Speaker of Parliament was also an Old Free who was also the first professor of surgery in the University of Malaya in Singapore. The medical profession was dominated by many Old Frees in the University and in Singapore's Health Service. The Old Frees then expanded themselves in holding important posts in public administration and management in Singapore like Education, Industries, Engineering, Architecture, Customs, Science Institutions, Business, the professions and other walks of life. They served Singapore with dedication, commitment and courage that our school has instilled in us during our school days. We are constantly reminded of our School's motto, the Rally Song and the upbringing our dedicated teachers and headmasters gave us through their values and practices. We often speak of the Old school with pride for what it has given us to serve our adopted country. Let us hope that this oldest English school in Malaysia and S.E. Asia will always remain a great school that everyone will always be proud of. The School is great not because it is the oldest but that it is also the best and is Free – free from many of the social, economic, religious and racial issues which have bogged down many institutions and even governments throughout the world. Long live the Great Penang Free School!!!

Lee Kum Tatt
24th October 2007

Pride of an Alumnus of a Great Institution

Should schools train students just for jobs or to produce creative individuals, some of who may start off as fledging rebels, with what they consider as good causes for change? Most institutions do the first one, only the great ones can handle both. We have our well known schools. The question is how to create more of such schools and make them great?
The parties involved: the authorities, the principals, teachers, the choice of students and the alumni they produce must work together to lay the right and strong foundation and pillars for such schools and institutions to grow. This requires effort, time, courage and tolerance from many to do what has to be done.

My husband, Dr. Lee Kum Tatt is proud that he came from a great school – the Penang Free School (PFS).
\u003c/span\>He attended the recent get together of Singapore Old Frees to celebrate the 191\u003csup\>st\u003c/sup\> anniversary of PFS where he met many enthusiastic Old Frees and shared many wonderful memories they had. He was so fired up that he jotted down an article "What makes a School Great".\n\u003cspan\> \u003c/span\>He feels that we must give credit where credit is due especially to those who have helped us to be what we are. He hopes some other Old Frees will also do likewise in their own way by telling their own stories. This will keep alive the spirit we got from the School and the time we had together.

He attended the recent get together of Singapore Old Frees to celebrate the 191st anniversary of PFS where he met many enthusiastic Old Frees and shared many wonderful memories they had. He was so fired up that he jotted down an article "What makes a School Great". He feels that we must give credit where credit is due especially to those who have helped us to be what we are. He hopes some other Old Frees will also do likewise in their own way by telling their own stories. This will keep alive the spirit we got from the School and the time we had together. As a teacher myself I love and enjoy the memories of the happy events we shared together with other alumnae. These human bonds are what make the Institutions great.

Mrs. Engeline Lee Eng Nio
24 October 2007

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What Do We Believe In

( Part I) Superstition or Common Sense

I was brought up in an environment which mixed up religious beliefs, superstitions, and common sense. It was not until I studied science that I learned to put more emphasis on facts based on scientific data to form my reasoned judgment on what to believe in. As I progressed I had not only to deal with spiritual feelings but I also had to handle emotional matters involving facts, opinions, statistics and fantasies in the name of creativity in my public life. I believe these are some of the stages many also go through in their lives.

Although I did not stay with my Mother until I was 13 years old, my mother’s beliefs and reactions have very great influence over my early life. My Parents molded my early life, character, values and philosophy. This affected many of the things I did. Some of Mother’s beliefs became my motivating and inspiring factors which made me do what I did. Some of her other beliefs became my fears. These inhibited many activities which I would have loved to do but did not do. Do not under estimate the influence your parents have on you.

After I studied science my new found knowledge changed some of my thinking. I no longer accepted, without question, what I considered as my Mother’s superstitions or “Grandmothers’ tales”. Some of these clashes were quite serious and required very careful handling to avoid serious arguments and explosions with my Mother and those who think like her. I notice many people, even today, are affected by these beliefs, superstitions and facts which we cannot ignore and ridicule in order to have peace in our society, with ourselves and others, espcecially our neighbours.

If my descendents are to know me better they must know how my early upbringing has affected my life and the struggle I had to go through to cause change. Sometimes these changes came with the exertion of great effort and at a great cost. Fortunately there were positive aspects to some of these beliefs which are sometimes classified as “family upbringing” and “Confucius teachings”. Where these are concerned there could be no arguments. Whatever my parents and elders said goes.

I will divide my articles here into three groups: (a). the positive ones; (b). the negative ones and (c). the in-betweens. I will start off with how these beliefs (a) and (b) presented themselves and the episodes that they created which made me what I am. Episodes in category (c) will be given in installments in the latter articles that follow.

(a) The Positive Beliefs

Our family was not wealthy and I know what poverty and sufferings mean from experience in my younger days. To break out of this vicious circle we have not only to work hard but also to pray for some miracles to take place. We needed these divine blessings which we believe will come upon us by doing good deeds to others. My parents taught us that good deeds go round and come back to you when you least expect it.

There is a Chinese saying that :

"Good deeds will be repaid with Good deeds,
And Evil with Evil.
If the deed seems not to have been paid
The time has not yet come.”

For this we must keep on trying to do good deeds. Some western culture also believes in this. Many also do good deeds and actively participate in charitable and social work helping others. We must also be always grateful to the many who have done us good and let us help others in return.

Surviving the Japanese Occupation and Thereafter.

Although my parents were not wealthy, they were very active in charitable activities throughout their lives. They continued to share with others the little we have even during the Japanese occupation. My parents had a large family to support but they even adopted a poor girl into our family. As young children we did not understand why my parents did what they did then. Looking back we were blessed in other ways. We survived the War and its terrible aftermath. We were able to accept the hardships that came with it. We were taught to be thankful for all the kind deeds others did for us. They are the good that comes back to us for some good we must have done. We do not have much but we never thought that we will be what we are today.

We therefore believe that doing good and helping others does pay in its own ways. We are concerned that this practice appears to be fast disappearing in our materialistic society of today where people consider rewards and returns first before service to others. Let us continue to do something about this important value of our culture. Let us not forget this in our pursuit for “success”. This is a good practice which we inherited from our ancestors.

Miracles can happen because of Fate?

Some people belief that if something is fated, it will take place irrespective of what happened in between. I believe that “God helps those who help themselves”. Even though it may be fated if we do not help ourselves enough through hard work certain things will not happened even though it may be fated.

Some examples of this belief.

1. I was born a sickly child. Either one of us would be sick when my Mother and I were together. If I was to survive I would have to be adopted “spiritually” by my late uncle. This happened and my Mother and I survived. Superstition, fate or did we really avoided the inevitable by following the priest’s advice?.

2. A Tibetan monk predicted that if I survived I would become “somebody” one day. That could only happen if I worked hard. This made me want to work hard and I did. If I did not work hard I would not be what I am today. All the hard work I did and the rewards I received can be the result of the returns from the good my parents have put in for me. My wife and I will continue to help others as our way of life even if no big deals come to us, no big evil will either. It is difficult to relate one event to another but we know the relations exist and that is good enough for us to continue to be helpful to others. I never worked for many of the achievements and bouquets given to me. I never expected any of them. This must be Providence’s way of acknowledging what we have done.

Superstitions & Negative Beliefs.

I believe what I am going to say here is still being practiced by many, especially the senior citizens, as part of our culture, tradition or religious beliefs. My Mother was a strong follower of Buddhism. She did not like to slaughter life animals for food and ate only vegetarian food at least twice a month. My father abstained from beef. My Mother released pigeons during certain religious festivals and we do not eat birds. In the family the meat we ate came from fish, pork and poultry. Only the chicken and the ducks had to be slaughtered and this was done by the maid. During the war years I had to do the slaughtering of poultry too. Psychologically could this be the cause of my frequent illness during the war time? Or was it due to malnutrition, overwork physically and lack of medical care and medicine or all? This question was never asked because there were no means to prove one way or the other. The fact was I was real sick and my Mother was not really comfortable either. Our Mind can play a lot of tricks on us if we do not know how to control it. I have learned to control my mind in various ways since.

Other events that add on to these superstitious beliefs include the following incidents or coincidences.

1. My second brother died when he was two years old. Apparently he was bitten by our pet tortoises. He developed a fever from which he never recovered. The 4 tortoises were sent to the Ayer Item Temple in Penang. My Mother vowed not to eat tortoises after that.

Later my grandfather was down with cancer and he had to drink turtle soup. My Mother had to be the one to boil the soup over a kerosene burner. The kerosene burner exploded and three persons caught fire, my Mother, my cousin and my brother. All three were admitted to the hospital with severe burns. My cousin died within two days. My grandfather died two days later while my Mother and brother were still in hospital. Fortunately they recovered. This was a terrible experience which is hard to forget especially the scene at that time of the fire and the screaming. This event left a very big impression on us all, especially my Mother. What really happened? Different people gave different interpretations but we cannot escape from the superstitious belief that a vow had been broken. Turtles and tortoises are related and my Mother should not have cooked the turtle soup herself.

2. When I was a forensic chemist I had to help in the scientific investigations. These included matching blood of the victims or suspects with those found on the exhibits submitted by the police. I had to take blood samples from some “accused murderers” who had stabbed their victims to death with knives. At one time I could not understand why some of these “cold blooded murderers” shivered and trembled when I pricked their fingers with just a tiny needle when they could use a knife to stab another man to death. I expected murderers to be tough guys. I was wrong. Some were not murderers with intention.

These cases usually happened during important Chinese festivals, especially during the Chinese New Year period. Most of these people were from the Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates where they live very close together. Many wanted peace and quiet by themselves when they sent their “gods” away for the New Year or welcome them back after the year has begun. Any misunderstanding, however small, could be interpreted by some to disrupt the peace and bring bad luck for the year. So strong is this belief among some people that they can loose their cool or control of themselves by doing things which they otherwise would not have done. They even commit murder without them realizing it, something way out of their character. .

3. When I was Chairman of the Citizen’s Consultative Committee of a certain constituency I had to help the Member of Parliament ( MP ) to attend to the needs of the people there. Whilst it is not possible to meet all requests from the citizens because of our laws and regulations there were certain requests we could ignore only at the risk of hurting members of the constituency. I am referring to the culture of our people due to their different religious and racial beliefs. We are a multi racial and multi religious society. Every citizen, especially the community leaders must respect other people’s beliefs and not ridicule them. We expect our grass root leaders’ personal sensitivities to be respected by the people too but this sometimes does not happen.. Respecting each others’ beliefs is always a challenge everyone of us in our multi-racial and multi-religious society constantly faces.

Besides the racial and religious beliefs and practices other human requirements like attending religious festivals, weddings and funerals etc our grassroots leaders have to give “face” by attending the functions they are expected to attend. There are many of these functions for grass root leaders to attend. Grass root leaders, who are volunteers, have to balance their time to attend to these activities with passion and sincerity without hurting the concerned parties. To the materialistic society we are fast moving into, how to get enough people to continue providing voluntary social and community service without self interest will always be a challenge to us all. To keep ourselves as a united community we must enjoy the trusts of those we work with by working hard and showing good examples of ourselves. Be sensitive to other’s beliefs and practice besides their needs as some of our dedicated grass root leaders do. Make out a list of the things we must never do. Respect each others’ beliefs and do not practice the “Do as I tell you but not do as I do” approach. Do not act as if you are the only clever one around the joint. This is tantamount to insulting other people’s intelligence, an act which is not acceptable in modern times. In a multi racial and multi religious society we must always be aware of this if we want to keep our peace. This cultural and religious divide is not easy to close. Special effort is needed to keep the gap small. Added to this we have to keep the gap between the rich and the poor manageable if we are to keep the peace we have and need. Remember every action from us counts. This is a secret that others can learn from us.

Do good to others and good will come to you.

Dr. Lee Kum Tatt

Secrets of Singapore’s Success

Many reports, articles, and books have been written glorifying the success of Singapore. These writings describe how tiny Singapore became great in so many ways to the envy of many, pride for some and embarrassment for others. Many have asked what is the secret to this success. Different people will give you different stories. The fact is that their combined contributions made the difference. This tiny red dot with a multi-racial and multi religious society have been living together in peace and built a city state with a high quality of life. We have made every individual’s action count. We have won our political freedom from the colonial masters. We have gained much ground in our fight against poverty and disease. We must ensure that we do not loose too much of our peace with ourselves, our neighbours and with the world in doing this. This is something we must continue to do now and in the years to come. We can share with the world that progress and peace can exist together in Singapore. If this can be done in Singapore why not in other parts of the world?

I came to Singapore more than 70 years ago as a child.

My husband, Dr. Lee Kum Tatt (LKT) came to Singapore 60 years ago to study in the Raffles College and we stayed here since. Many people helped and guided us. We like to think that we have also done the same to many in return during our life. LKT brought up a number of successful persons in their professions and careers. I have taught many students who are successful citizens of this country. LKT enjoys doing this and is concerned that this public spirit of helping others is being eroded in our fast changing materialistic society where people want rewards before service. He thinks this is a pity. When he was younger he shared his knowledge, experience, time and opportunities with many who are still his friends. He treated them all as his kin.

Now that he is eighty he decided to enjoy life in his golden years. He still has much to share with others. So we have persuaded him to share with us whatever he still has and still can give as part of oral history from the horse’s mouth.. Read the articles in his blog. They represent his personal views, values, experience and knowledge given freely and happily. This is the important part. Take them for whatever they are worth.

Engeline Lee Eng Nio