Boarding schools, like the Malay College Kuala Kangsar, may help children form lifelong bonds with their classmates and, in the process, promote unity. FILE PIC

WE live in an era of never-ending challenges. Conflicts between nations have not shown signs of abating. The peace that we all crave for remains elusive.

As a nation, we have done our share through dialogue and diplomacy to promote global unity. At home, after more than 60 years of independence, the issue of national unity, or the lack of it, still looms large among our major concerns.

We have invested in all kinds of programmes to promote national unity. The issue remains stubbornly acute. Songs after songs have been composed and sung. The situation has not changed much. Some blame divisive politics. But in this age of the Internet, the spread of fake news is more to blame.

Can we look to the strong bonding most among us may have developed when we were in school? Most of us would remember the school years as the best time of our lives. Especially the times in secondary school.

Those were the years when we discovered the joy of building camaraderie, not only with colleagues but also with teachers. Not to mention the communities around us.

Those years can be described as innocent years. There were no feelings of suspicion and distrust with one another. Ethnic animosity was definitely not in our vocabulary. Some feeling of statehood may have been there.

From my experience studying in Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), those coming from Kelantan and Terengganu had some of that parochial state feeling in the early stage.

This was probably because of the long distance to reach our school in Kuala Kangsar. The journey by train and ferry may have contributed to such feelings. But even this soon mellowed as we advanced to the higher forms. Other than that, we felt like we were friends
exploring new experiences together.

The time spent in class and the many extracurricular activities, which were common in those years, sapped most of our energy, leaving little to worry about anything else. A full boarding school environment provided that positive vibes.

This is exactly the experience felt by my classmates and I. There were about 130-odd among us. We left home at the tender age of 12 or 13 to live and study in MCKK, going back home only for short durations during term breaks.

Otherwise, we had to eat and sleep in the dormitories, where we were each given a bed and a locker. Not much different from the army, except we were at a much tender age.

We were from the Class of 1966. That was the year we sat the Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE) or Senior Cambridge Certificate.

We are fortunate because in our group, we have a few individuals who are passionate about organising events, which helps keep the group in close touch. We normally meet up at our children’s weddings. At such functions, tables are specially reserved for us.

The bonding is not limited to us classmates. We have also established strong bonds with our former teachers.

Although MCKK students are all Malays, the teachers are mostly non-Malays. That difference was never a problem for us. Many among our former teachers never hesitated to join and celebrate with us.

In 2016, we celebrated our Golden Jubilee, 50 years after our MCE. Everyone, even teachers, came, except for those among our brothers who have left us. Again, through the efforts of a few diehards among us, we produced a book compiling not only nostalgic pictures but also narratives of the many years of growing up in the college.

This was recently submitted to the National Library for safekeeping.

There is no denying the positive power of such alumni in building brotherhood and, in the process, promoting unity. I am sure in the more multiethnic boarding schools, like the Royal Military College, the impact would be felt much more.

It may be worthwhile for the government to allocate some budget to encourage more school alumni to undertake activities which bring together members.

Maybe a national conference can be organised to gather school alumni to deliberate on strategies for national unity. National unity is, after all, an important prerequisite for sustainable prosperity!

Professor Datuk Dr Ahmad Ibrahim

Fellow, Academy of Sciences Malaysia, UCSI University

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