Noor Asmaliza Romlee is grateful to the convent for the wholesome quality education she received.
“Simple dans ma vertu, forte dans mon devoir” (Simple in virtue, steadfast in duty). This was my school motto which still lingers in my heart.
My best friend who was from a boarding school once told me, “I don’t get this strong emotional attachment of convent girls with their schools. It’s like there is this ghost umbilical cord between you guys.”
Okay, that sounds like an eerie Malay ghost story. But on a serious note, my friend’s statement made me think hard about why former convent girls like me love and take pride in our missionary schools so much.
During primary school, I vividly remember my friends and I paying our respects to Sister Fedelis, a kind nun and caring English teacher.
We attended an elaborate Christian funeral and carried candles. Our non-Christian friends and teachers (including our ustaz and ustazah) joined in the prayers for her in an old chapel with mesmerising neo-gothic architectural influence.
Many conventional Muslim parents, including mine, waited patiently for us outside the chapel until we finished the ceremony. Our parents respected the teachers and trusted that the Christian ceremony would not cause their daughters to deviate from their faith. That trust was built upon the professionalism, competency and transparency of the nuns and the other teachers.
The chapel is within the school compound but there were no extremists who requested that it be separated from the school, not even our Islamic teachers.
I felt that the school belonged to all races and faiths – a place where religious tolerance and moderate Muslims existed in harmony. As a Muslim, I think the convent school shaped me and my other Muslim friends into independent thinkers and profound believers in Allah who are not easily offended by the activities of other religions.
Convent Light Street (CLS) is the oldest school in South East Asia, with a history dating back 167 years. That is how long the school has had a positive impact on our education system.
I still remember our history lessons conducted in an old wooden classroom in an Anglo-Indian building known as Government House. Captain Francis Light, the founder of Penang, and Stamford Raffles, who founded Singapore, worked briefly at Government House, which is part of the CLS premises.
My history teacher once told us that where we sat in the classroom was the “sweet spot” for Light to watch his ships with his binoculars out of the wooden window.
My point here is not about the English captain, but about my dedicated former Malaysian teachers who were passionate about their work. I had teachers who were willing to spend their leisure time after official school hours conducting extra classes to prepare us for our exams.
Lastly, this school was where I met great friends from all walks of life and from different races, faiths and socio-economic backgrounds. My friends and I received a wholesome, quality, secular English-medium education at affordable fees.
The school was also where I found my first love that has no boundaries of race, religion or even gender. There was no need to label that love, and I thank the Sisters of the Infant Jesus for providing many Malaysians, including a Muslim student like me, with a memorable education experience.
Noor Asmaliza Romlee, an Aliran member, is a trained science communicator from the National University of Singapore and the Australian National University. She has worked in a national think tank in science, technology and innovation as well as in the NGO and private sectors.