Saturday, 2 August 2014

Meliora Hic Sequamur

We are both located on the west coast of the peninsula but one is in the north and the other is in the south. Together, we have achieved almost 400 years of presence in the Straits Settlements, Malaya and now Malaysia. I'm referring to the two educational institutions in the country that have existed since the 19th century: the Penang Free School in the north, founded in 1816, and the Malacca High School in the south, founded in 1826.

In the last few days, news have been emerging that the very physical presence of the Malacca High School in the Malacca UNESCO cultural heritage core zone is under threat. There are plans in high places to relocate the school and the reason given by the state authorities and the education department is that there is too much traffic congestion in the vicinity of the school.

Naturally, there's a lot of public outcry in Malacca, especially from the old boys of the school. In this age and time when public awareness and pride of cultural heritage and values are at an all-time high, no-one would like to have their Alma Mater bandied with when their old school is so much a part of this country's history.

I do feel for the old boys of MHS. I would react the same way too if my own beloved Alma Mater is similarly affected by a suggestion to relocate. Luckily, the Penang Free School had already moved far away from the old town centre to an almost deserted Green Lane in 1928. If it had stayed put in Farquhar Street until today, there is no doubt about it that it would by now be pressured to move too.

And in this respect, I hope there is no proposal to relocate the St Xavier's Institution or the Convent Light Street from Farquhar Street and Light Street respectively. It would be scandalous to even think about it, but it can happen if the authorities in high places turn their sights on these schools. (The Malacca High School too had its last relocation to their present premises in 1928 - so there is a similarity with the Penang Free School - but whereas Green Lane in Penang was pretty much in the countryside then, Jalan Chan Koon Cheng was quite close to the bustling old Malacca town centre.)

The biggest puzzle about the proposal to relocate the Malacca High School is the lack of transparency by the authorities. Nobody has suggested what they intended to do with the land should MHS ever move out. Suspicions are running high among the old boys of the High School that some unnamed developers are already eyeing the plot of land, that it was all about money and never about traffic congestion.

It has also been suggested that the traffic congestion around the MHS was not caused by the school but due to massive commercial development in the surrounding areas. It was claimed that the massive jams only occur during weekends, public and school holidays.

So unless the Malacca government can come clean and give a more extensive and plausible explanation why the school must indeed move, the ordinary Malaccans will never accept that traffic congestion is the real reason. In fact, they are voicing that their state government should be defending and protecting their heritage rather than supporting the proposal. And I hope that this is a valuable lesson which the authorities in George Town will take heed of too.

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