1 June 1997
What triggered me to write this article was the decision by a senior Malaysian diplomat
here to withdraw his two girls from a much sought after United Nations International
School in favour of a public school run by the New York City Board of Education.
Government or public schools in New York are severely crowded and teachers strain
to teach, maintain discipline and absorb pupils, most of whom are the children of
immigrants. In 1990, New York City was 63% white but in three years' time it is projected
to be just 35% white.
I must say I used to dislike New York because it was a "fear city". Now
it has changed for the better despite a gruesome murder at the Central Park last
week. The last Park murder before last week's took place in 1995. The 843-acre Central
Park is an oasis of green amid the skyscrapers. It has always been a place for many
civic celebrations, a pleasant environment for a stroll as well as a source of urban
I shall not go into the reason or reasons why my colleague did what he did, not in
this article in any event. Nor shall I attempt - after years of deriding New York
City - why my view of the Big Apple has changed. Suffice to say this: Money and a
massive infusion of highly- motivated immigrants have caused the city's renaissance
When I was in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, where traffic problems are horrendous, I
was often asked about the parking privileges of diplomats in the Big Apple. My general
reaction was that I had no problem. I do not get excited about parking nor about
My colleague, Tan Sri Razali Ismail, the President of the United Nations General
Assembly, should be applauded for his efforts and enthusiasm to reform the Security
Council and the United Nations Secretariat which, like the UN itself, have yet to
rationalise their functions post Cold War. However, nothing much will happen because
of the structural problems within the UN's decision-making process which affect the
The process is just "too deliberative" and made worse by the general reluctance
of member states, which must after all approve the changes, and they are dragging
It was good to be away from the UN for three weeks on official business in Jakarta
and Kuala Lumpur. Whether in New York, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Washington D.C. or
London, every one loves his parking perks. New Yorkers love their parking perks much
as diplomats love theirs. New Yorkers have a plethora of special licence plates which
bestow one or another privilege on scores of judges, journalists, doctors, city officials
and well-connected people, all of whom escape minor parking tickets. So what's the
Now, parents know why their sons and daughters want to be VVIPs, VIPs or, at least,
politicians, or marry those who can escape minor traffic offences!
you worried about something? Well, President Bill Clinton is. He is preoccupied about
his place in history, what with wondering how future historians will compare him
with some of his famous predecessors. He had better be. An interim study by an eminent
American jury ranked him very low along with the likes of William Taft and George
Bush - the man he defeated. For Clinton, this is like adding insult to an injury.
Clinton is given a mere grade C! Abraham Lincoln was a grade A president. George
Washington was graded B. He may even get a D now that Paula Jones has won a Supreme
Court battle. The Supreme Court unanimously voted last week that a sitting president
has no constitutional immunity from civil law suits while in office, clearing the
way for Paula Jones to pursue a sexual harassment case against Clinton. The president
might just have to grin and bare (correct) it.
Are you worried about your children's or grandchildren's education? Is it the worry
about the rising cost of quality education or the general deterioration of educational
standards all over the world?
As I said I was in Indonesia three weeks ago. Changes in Indonesia and also at home
are always a critical test of my personal capacity to respond positively to any shift
in these essentially Bahasa Melayu speaking nations. Before their independence in
1945, Dutch was the language of the Indonesian elite, now it is English. In our case,
English remains the language of the ruling class with Bahasa Malaysia.
An Indonesian mother, wife of a merchant - once she knew I was from Kuala Lumpur
- politely asked if the Tuanku Jaafar College in Seremban were a good boarding school.
She wants her children to be educated in an English-medium school. An expatriate
friend in Ampang Hilir is sending his children to a boarding school in England because
it seems that none of the international schools in the federal capital meets his
demanding standards. His detractor claims that none of his children can cope with
either the Alice Smith School or the International School.
In any event education and educating our children have become a bit complicated.
Choosing schools is torturous. Sending a child closer to home should be considerably
cheaper but is it in the long run?
Thank God I had an easy time choosing schools for my children. I risk being accused
as an Anglophile if I said that Britain is fortunate in having two great systems
of education. Notwithstanding what the labour government's policy towards public
schools may be, one of the blessings of being British is that they can choose where
their children should be educated, either at a public school or state school which
exist side by side.
The state schools have been in existence for more than 160 years and the system ensures
that every British child or any child living in Britain can receive free schooling
up to a certain level and age.
The public schools numbering some 2,300, are run by the private or independent sector.
Although the public school is a primarily English institution, there are such schools
in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Australia, United States, Canada, Pakistan, Egypt, India
and Thailand. Old boys and girls of these schools, whether Indian, Egyptian or Thai,
have a unique tradition, and the old school network is robust and unparalleled, and
the envy of old pupils of other schools.