Victoria Institution, 125 years of excellence — Dharm Navaratnam

Malay Mail AUGUST 14 — What was first mooted as an idea came into fruition 125 years ago on this day, August 14th.  A group of 3 prominent businessmen in the day, together with the support of the then British Resident of Selangor as well as Sultan Abdul Samad, came up with the idea of forming an English school in Kuala Lumpur. It was their “foresight and devotion” that led to the founding of the Victoria Institution.

Over the years, there has been many a young man “who passed through this our School”.  Regardless of your stature in life, a lot of us, if not all, credit the Victoria Institution for instilling in us a deep sense of value and of being the seed that built our character.

Students that joined the school identified themselves as Victorians.  That moniker never left you because as all Victorians know – Once a Victorian, always a Victorian.  It is almost like a badge that you wear with honour.  But it is so much more than a badge.  It is a feeling of pride, of dignity and of gratitude to belong to the ranks of a Victorian.

Undoubtedly there is something special about the School and indeed it must be so when men in their 40s and 50s and even some in their 80s, continue to identify themselves as Victorians today. Most of them still remember the words to the School Song and proudly sing it with gusto, much like the days when they were in school.  For some of us, it even brings a tear to the eye.

While the VI is definitely not the oldest school in Malaysia, it carries the distinction of being home to the oldest Cadet Corps in the country, the Victoria Institution Cadet Corps; , the oldest Cadet Corps Band in the country, the Victoria Institution Cadet Corps Band; and the oldest Scout Group in the country, the First Kuala Lumpur Scout Troop, originally known as the First Selangor Scout Troop. It was also one of the first few schools to have a Prefects Board and a School Magazine.  Pretty amazing really when you consider that there are a few schools in existence that are quite a number of years older than the VI.

The school is full of history and tradition and many of these traditions have lasted over a great number of years.  This is only to be expected though of a school that is 125 years old.

It must be said and acknowledged that other premier schools can probably lay claim to these same statements.  Schools like Penang Free School, Malacca High School, St. Xavier’s Institution, King Edward VII, Anderson Ipoh, St Michaels Ipoh, (dare I say) St Johns, and MCKK, to name but a few.  These are some of the oldest schools in the country.  They too are rich in history and tradition.  Their students and former students also have great pride in their school and would think that their school is indeed the best around.

Indeed there is a sense of community, of camaraderie and of brotherhood that seems to traverse across time.  There seems to be an immediate bond formed when one realises that someone is from the same school, regardless of the age gap.

Today however, intake into these premier schools is decreasing.  This is in no small part due to the mushrooming of National Schools in almost every neighbourhood as well as the burgeoning of Private and International schools all over the place.  Funding has also decreased and this has led to School buildings that have lost their lustre.  Classrooms are in disrepair.  Financing for niche and cluster activities have trickled.  Lots of parents seem not to want to send their children to these schools anymore, opting instead to go to a local neighbourhood school.  Some just don’t see the value in these premier schools anymore, preferring to go to International or Private schools.

A school can only thrive if there is a student population.  If the student population dwindles, the school will cease to exist.  This has led many to feel that there is a dastardly plot to reduce student intake and then convert schools into commercial or other usage.  Most premier schools are after all on prime land and we all know of the fate of a premier girls school that was demolished and replaced with what is now, sadly, a shopping complex.

Hence, there must be a concerted effort to preserve these premier schools.  There must be a collaborative effort to raise the intake of students to these schools and return these schools to their former glory.  While most of these schools may have Heritage status, I believe it only relates to the preservation of the buildings and not the function of the building.  It would be such a shame to lose these premier schools simply because of a decline in student population.

Perhaps the solution to fixing the perennial problem of complaints about our education system is to really see what makes these schools tick and how they have continued to thrive for over a hundred years.  Pay more attention on the upkeep of these schools and focus on making these schools a model for other schools to follow.  Make these schools the school of choice by emphasising the needs of a holistic education rather than one just focused on grades.  Focus on instilling pride and honour.  The other schools will soon follow suit.

Really, it’s not that complicated.

For after all, these schools must have done something right for students to feel such pride and a sense of belonging and kinship even after having left school for so many years.

We cannot afford to lose these schools.  This will be akin to losing part of our history.  This is my fear for the Victoria Institution. This is my fear for all the other Premier Schools in the country.
For me personally, the Victoria Institution has a deep family tradition and history.  My grandfather was one of the early students of the school.  My father followed as a student in the 1950s and then my two brothers joined the school in the late 70s.  I myself was a student in the VI from 1980 to 1984.  Exactly 30 years after I left the VI, my own son became a Victorian in 2014. He is now in Form 5.

So 4 generations of my family studied at the same school and latest checks show that this is the first time this has happened to date. 4 generations of Victorians! Quite remarkable and something to be exceedingly grateful for.

So thank you to Yap Kwan Seng, Loke Yew, Thamboosamy Pillai, Sultan Abdul Samad and Sir William Treacher for being the founding fathers of the Victoria Institution on 14th August 1893.

Thank you Victoria Institution for 125 years of excellence and I can only hope that there will be at least another 125 more.

* Dharm Navaratnam is an Old Boy of the Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.