KUALA LUMPUR: The Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah today reminded people of the different ways in which multi-culturalism was experienced in the past, without regard to race or creed.
The Perak ruler said there was a time when more uncomplicated interaction between the nation’s various constituent races and people took precedence.
“Academic, sports and social events included both sexes and students from all backgrounds in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
“Today’s educationalists would do well to read this and other books that describe the system in place during this period, to see which of its features might still have relevance and utility.”
Sultan Nazrin said this in conjunction with the launch of “Legends, Lessons And Love: A Small Town And An English School” by Datin Paduka Proffesor Dr. Jamilah Ariffin at the Sime Darby Convention Centre today.
Also present were Permaisuri of Perak Tuanku Zara Salim and Jamilah's husband, the former Menteri Besar of Johor Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Othman, who is currently Sime Darby Bhd's chairman.
The 400-page book which features personal accounts about growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s in Tapah, Perak, in rural Government English School (GES), depicts a time when harmony and friendships were a way of life, irrespective of race, culture and religion.
A total of 26 narrators comprising 22 of Jamilah's former schoolmates and four former teachers contributed their memories and view which provided real insight into the lives of the protagonists and the institutions which shaped them.
“Lifelong bonds were forged and we studied and played together in this co-ed school located in the then very pretty place surrounded by green hills and pristine waterfalls, with the Batang Padang River flowing.
“Our parents encouraged us to visit our friends of any race and respecting their values at the same time.”
Jamilah wrote the book based on personal accounts by her, classmates and ex-teachers, most of whom were among the attendees,” said Sultan Nazrin.
He said the book provided insights of not only the lives of individuals but also the education system during the nation's crucial transitional period, would be a good read for today's educationists.
"We can learn much about community and multi-culturalism from this richly detailed account of how these operated in those days.
"While we may not be able to return to that more innocent small-town past that this book so powerfully brings to live, there may again be valuable elements that we could learn from in our current efforts to build a harmonious multi-cultural society,” he said.
Elaborating Sultan Nazrin said the book provided rich details on various aspects of traditional British education model, with its kind but firm discipline by the teachers and successive principals, who fulfilled their roles in moulding the new generation with such dedication.
“The school sought to build confidence and ambition among all its students, as part of an approach that emphasised service, duty, honesty and integrity," he said.
Sultan Nazrin said the book constantly reminded readers on the different ways in which multi-culturalism was experienced before the manipulation of racial or religious difference for political purposes that had become a feature of our politics since.
"As depicted in the many photos in the book, there were easy mingling of classmates from different races and religious background who met as equals on the school grounds.
"Friendships were then deepened through the many opportunities for inter-action and integration that were provided by the school and broader community," he said.
The Sultan added that even as the nation was reshaping the current educational models in order to benefit and keep up with all the latest technological innovations, the value of the approaches that have worked well in the past must not be forgotten.
He added that discipline, dedication and sense of duty that were imparted by GEST and other English-medium schools and their small town communities, as shared in the book, all remained invaluable qualities today.
The 15-chapter book published by I-Resolve will soon be available at all MPH bookstores nationwide at RM65 for soft cover and RM100 for hard cover version.