Boarding schools getting popular - Abdullah Ahmad

10 August 1997

In the United Kingdom, and I believe in the United States also, there is a decline in the number of parents sending their children to boarding schools.

Independent education is the bastion of the British upper class and ruling elite. The Conservative Party always stood full square behind independent schools - whether fully boarding or otherwise - as the embodiment of freedom of choice by parents. The Labour Party has always shown hostility towards independent schooling. Tony Blair is product of Fettes, a top Scottish public school in Edinburgh and he is also a graduate of Oxford.

I believe boarding schools provide a need: a choice and diversity in all fields. In Great Britain left-wing politicians have always spoken about taking on such fabled bastions of privilege as Eston, Harrow, Winchester, Benenden, Cheltham, Ladies and Rodean.

I am glad all the talks were forgotten and all programmes of action abandoned as soon as each general election was over.

In Malaysia it is the other way around. The enrolment in boarding schools is about 55 times more than it was in 1957, the year of our independence. It shows how popular boarding schools are with Malaysian parents.

Before Merdeka, there were only two fully residential schools - the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) and The Malay Girls College (MGC) in Kuala Lumpur which was renamed Tunku Kursiah College (TKG) and moved to Seremban in the early sixties. Now we have nearly 50 boarding schools, and more are in the pipeline.

I can see increasing demands for boarding schools by Malaysian parents, especially those who are working overseas and whose numbers are growing as fast as the Malaysian economy is growing as a result of Malaysian proactive foreign policy and international trade, commerce and industry.

As Malaysian diplomats, bankers, businessmen and others move frequently from one assignment to another, the need for their children to acquire Bahasa Malaysia and continuity in education can be met only through boarding.

The rich Malaysians send their children to English schools simply to give their children a broader outlook and to acquire experience which is enriching.

Boarding schools provide a good shelter for children from broken families. By this I mean those families who are less fortunately placed. As you and I know, the incidence of bercerai (divorce), break up of marriages (not necessarily divorce, as the Malays call it "rumah dua bumbong") is on the increase.

The only children and children of these divorced parents would need caring and strong guardianship which only can be provided at boarding schools. The children need the steady and stable company of contemporaries who will only be found in their school hostels and houses.

The boarding environment is excellent for all children of all classes. I can testify this as my children and my wife are happy to do so.