'Do not lose your children!'
Published on: Monday, December 28, 2015
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Kota Kinabalu: Sabah's best known educationist-cum-disciplinarian for over half a century, the late Datuk Brother Charles O'Leary, warned parents in his parting message that they risk losing their children if all they can give them is money and gadgets, instead of quality time.He also hoped the Education Ministry would address the problem of overcrowding in schools, which makes instilling discipline and students' concentration difficult these days.

Among others, he observed that:

• The current school curriculum overburdened young minds with too many subjects to the extent of even contributing to physical deformities in some who have to lug heavy bags to school;

• There are not enough vocational or agricultural schools for those who do not have the inclination to go beyond Form Three.

Brother Charles said children must learn to self-discipline and that this must begin in the home.

"A lot of the task of disciplining should take place in the home." But, unfortunately, adults, particularly parents, are not looking after their children today because father and mother are working.

"They give their children money but not prime or quality time. You can give them money and all the gadgets but if you don't give them quality time, you will lose them.

"That is terribly important," he said, in an unpublished exclusive interview. Daily Express decided to publish the interview in view of his unfortunate passing at age 87 on Christmas eve.

Brother Charles urged parents to take an interest in all aspects of their child's growth and upbringing.

Worse still, he said, many parents don't create a good model for their children.

"It's a kind of attitude – do as I say but don't do as I do. And parents are too soft and give their children this and that.

"I think they must teach their kids, Look, you must look to the future, you must look beyond self-gratification.

Think of the consequences. If that is so, then the job of schools will be much easier," he said.

The former Principal of SM La Salle, lamented that, generally, parents do not show an interest in their children's academic performance and curricular activities.

"They will only come to the school when their children are in trouble or only when the public examination results are released.

"It's hard to get them to act in the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) or Board of Managers.

"I suppose their attitude is – just hand them (children) over to the school; after all, the teachers are paid to do the job. But I strongly think that half the job of disciplining should be done in the home," he said.

The late Brother Charles was especially worried about boys in Form Three and the upper classes.

"No doubt, the boys will attend the primary school. But somehow when they are in Form Three or Form Four or even Form Five, there seems to be very little attendance.

"I think the teachers should motivate them and help them to revise their lessons in preparing for the public examination," he said.

He said there is a tendency for the media and even adults to blame the young people.

"I think we should blame the adults, the parents. I think they don't discipline their children at home and leave too much to the school. So in the end, you have a lot of young people whose whole purpose of life is immediate gratification. That should not be the case."

Upon reflection, Brother Charles said students were easier to handle 30 to 40 years ago.

"They were not exposed to all the modern influences that we have today. I often emphasised the importance of self-control, self-discipline and reminded them to think of their future. I told them to think beyond immediate satisfaction or gratification.

"But today, the cyber cafes, the mobile phones and all the gadgets are very distracting of course. As a result, students are not able to focus on their studies. Besides, these things impart values which, I think, are not becoming."

His perception of the modern child today is one who comes into the classroom, all wired up. He has imposed a ruling at least at the boarding house under his charge.

"You can't bring in this gadget anymore during the period of study. How can you focus on your studies if you are listening to some music? You know, they seem to thrive in noise. I just don't understand their lifestyle."

Brother Charles was also concerned about perennial overcrowding in classrooms, especially in schools within the perimeters of Kota Kinabalu City.

"I hope the Government will take a look at the current situation. We have been talking so much about discipline. But what about the scenario in urban schools where there are over 50 students in Form One?

"How can teachers enforce discipline in that kind of an environment?" he asked.

From Brother Charles' observation, the Government is building schools all over the country.

"However, they are in the rural areas and some of them are empty or half-empty. Ha! But here in the city, teachers and students face congestion in the classrooms.

"No wonder, teachers find difficulty controlling the classes. Having more than 40 children in one class, no wonder the results in many schools are so poor," he pointed out.

He said they didn't have that kind of situation decades ago. "In my time, the most was around 40 or 45. But now I am told there are more than 50 in some of the classes. Still, this doesn't occur in elite schools.

"Why can't the Government build more schools? Instead, they give all kinds of excuses."

He also lamented the current school curriculum, saying it is overloaded too.

"Too many subjects, adding new subjects, making subjects compulsory. This seems to be the policy at present for whatever reason(s)."

He also called on the Government to consider having more vocational and agricultural schools to absorb boys who can't go beyond Form Three.

According to him, a lot of students who are dropping out are promoted but they are almost illiterate.

"They are not able to read or write and yet they are kept in the classroom. They should be in a vocational or agricultural school after Form Three. Anybody who does not reach a certain standard should not be promoted.

"They sleep in class half the year, they don't turn up, especially towards the end of the year. This is because some schools take examinations earlier than the normal semester, so the kids, who are not affected, don't come to school," he contended.

Brother Charles' other contention is that a lot of Form Three and Form Five students, in particular, just turn up for the public examination at the end of the year.

"You have to let them sit but they are not in school half the time."

Asked how he came to know about this state of affairs, he replied: "I have two ears…not officially reported."

Thirdly, he observed that there are more female teachers than males in some boys' schools.

"It is foreseeable that problems could arise when it comes to organising sports events and other school activities that may require physical exertion.

"I hope the Government will offer incentives to woo more male school-leavers to join the teaching profession."

Fourthly, Brother Charles was equally concerned over the absence of teachers in class, especially during the school sports season.

"They practically do nothing for the first two months almost. Sports teachers and others are taken out to referee matches for all kinds of games. This happens during school time which explains why teachers are not teaching in the class during this particular period."

Among those who benefited from the guidance and tutelage of the late Brother Charles were two former Sabah Chief Ministers (Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan and Tan Sri Bernard Dompok), and former Sarawak Chief Minister, Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.

He came to then British North Borneo (Sabah) in 1958 after spending seven years in Sarawak and served as Principal of SM La Salle from January 1969 to the end of 1985, but continued to nurture students and monitor the school's scholastic progress and physical development right until his death.

Admittedly, in his training and upbringing in those days (forties, fifties and sixties), Brother Charles was brought up to respect the teachers.

"I suppose we used the word 'fear' which I think is wrong. I hate that, I don't like that word.

"I am gratified that I have been noted for invoking fear but that was not the intention," he pointed out.

"I reckon we have different characters, different backgrounds and different approaches. Maybe I am more people-oriented. That is very important for a teacher and a parent too. And I don't hold a grudge against anybody," he asserted.

During his tenure as principal, he had the authority to appoint a Discipline Master and to assign a teacher to mete out caning, and always in the presence of a witness (principal or teacher).

"That was the rule under the Education Department. Administering the caning would be recorded each time in case there was any case brought against us for sadism or something like that.

"Sometimes teachers would take the liberty of their own and very often, if anything went beyond the ordinary, the headmaster or principal would get the blame.

"Once you are in authority, you have to take the rap. You get the praise if it's good, if it's not so good, you get the blame. That's all with the way when you are in charge," he said.

Brother Charles felt that it would be wise to get somebody to do the caning "because if you are going to cane the boy and you are emotionally upset, you can go too far."

Normally, he would discuss the matter with the Discipline Master if it was a serious offence like gang fights and theft.

"But caning people for missing lessons or not doing their homework is unpardonable. You will only destroy the child."

He often ticked off teachers going around with a cane.

"I would never walk around any classroom with a cane in my hand. You shouldn't walk around with a cane.

"In the not so distant past, I had known teachers with a big stick going around even in the sports field. And I would tell them this would not create a good image. Even today, I find teachers going around with a stick in their hand and giving students a little tap," he noted.

"You have all kinds of headmasters with certain mannerisms and certain gimmicks also. It is not for me to pass judgement on another person. They did their job in their way, and I did it my way."

Brother Charles himself is an enigma who remains a mystery to many of his students. While agreeing that principals must relate to their students in a reasonably friendly way, he advocates keeping a certain dignity and reserve in dealing with young people.

"You cannot be too soft and easy-going. You must be on top as a principal or teacher; otherwise, you are not able to control the class. You must keep a certain distance from young people, emotionally or otherwise."

So, that was one of his strategies in keeping discipline under control. But he believes that in line with the whole ethos of the "La Salle Family" or the "La Salle Brothers", their task is to touch hearts, not to punish, not to create fear.

"Any punishment was for their own good and if I were strict, I could be as they would say, marah (angry) one moment and the next thing, I would be with them all. You know, I easily forgive and forget. So, they don't keep in the heart and neither do I.

"And I think young people could sense whether your heart is with them or not. Very often in my case, I think they begin to appreciate me when I am gone," he laughed. "Because they know that you are doing it as a good parent would."


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