What is it about the Malay College Kuala Kangsar that has enabled it to produce such formidable personalities and leaders in politics, business and other spheres? Is it the learning environment, the camaraderie, the competitive spirit, the food or the extra-curricular activities?
A lot has been said about the Malay College, that prestigious boarding school located in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar. Known also by its acronym MCKK, the college has attracted all kinds of comments.
Some talk about the positive side, for example, the many leaders the college has produced over the years. And there is also no shortage of negative comments about the MCKK’s much publicized old boys’ network, which some say smacks of a kind of nepotism and cronyism.
Educationists attracted to the MCKK model, have tried to simulate similar learning environments for better or worse in other boarding schools. Not all such attempts have been successful though. Over the years, even the Malay College Old Boys Association or MCOBA has achieved the rare reputation of being one of the few school alumni associations which has been able to attract and sustain a strong membership. In fact, the MCOBA is just as widely known as MCKK, if not more. Whatever it is, MCKK graduates have never failed to live up to the image of their alma mater, positive or otherwise.
Many have acknowledged the fact that the college has produced many distinguished personalities and leaders. Among them are ministers, politicians, senior government officials, judges, Inspector General of Police, Air Force chief, diplomats and businessmen, not to mentioned a few talented newscasters and entertainers as well. MCKK was modelled after the English Public schools like Eton and Harrow which has produced many distinguished personalities of the British leadership so much, so MCKK was once dubbed as the ‘Eton of the East’.
Just attend any of MCOBA’s annual dinners. Often the shows and entertainment are entirely the effort of the old boys themselves. You would be surprised of the enormous talent of the collegian. Their performance would put many local TV shows to shame. They can play music, sing, dance and act. Some of the comic sketches may even be in the same league as the Two Roonies of British television fame or even the American award-winning The Cosby Show. Their talents are abounded all in the name of putting on a good quality show.
Though college boys appear to be full of laughter during MCOBA dinners, they also have their serious side. One only needs to take a look at the past and present line-up of prominent newsmaker to appreciate this fact. In politics, MCKK old boys have definitely made some impact. They held and continue to hold important political portfolios – some are Menteri Besar, Ministers and MPs. The corporate line-up is no less impressive, to say the least. An ex-headboy took over the restructured HICOM and turned it into DRB-HICOM. Utility giant TNB was once headed by another old boy as well as Malaysia’s largest conglomerate, Sime Darby. The national strategic investment arm of the Government of a Malaysia, Khazanah Nasional was headed by an old boy.
A Malaysian was named chief executive of Shell Malaysia – he was yet another MCKK graduate. He went on to be the Chairman of Maybank. The previous PETRONAS chief executive is also a MCKK old boy and was groomed by another MCKK old boy before he left the post. The current CEO of Telekom is another product of MCKK. The list appears unending: Renong, UEM, PLUS, MRCB, Golden Hope, MIMOS, SIRIM, Bank Negara – all their former CEOs came from the college. Even the country’s top scientific post of Science Advisor to the ex-Prime Minister, was held by a former collegian. Either they are basking in the past glories or enjoying the present competitive times, the MCKK boys never fails to make headlines complete with their burgundy striped ties.
This not to suggest that all MCKK graduates make it to the top, some are known to have faltered along the way. But it is quite obvious that many are definitely among the top in political and corporate circles. Why is this so? What do MCKK boys learn that makes them different? Is it just the learning environment that makes all the difference? Or the size of classes, often not more than 30 students?
Or does it have anything to do with the extra-curricular activities? Many such activities have taught the students to be more independent. Can that be the reason why many excel? What about lessons on social responsibility? There are no simple answers.
A comprehensive look at life in MCKK, however would provide some clues.
In MCKK, especially in those days, students normally enter at Form 1, Form 4 or Lower 6. Since the abolishment of Six Forms in MCKK, the students reach the apex stay in the school in Form 5. Recently, MCKK introduced the MCKK International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme as a continuity for Form Five. Seldom do students come in at any other stage, except perhaps in much earlier days when there were provisions even for primary schooling.
The majority however enter at Form 1. They are usually put in a building called the preparatory school, or Prep School for short. This is separate from the so-called Big School where the bulk of the other students from Form 2 upwards are housed. Other buildings like New Hostel and Pavillon segregated other segment of the students.
The Prep School is also where they get orientated towards the MCKK way of thinking. Students are encouraged to excel in everything, not just in academic subjects, but in sports, extra-curricular activities, clubs, entertainment and societies as well.
Admittedly, most who enter Form 1 have never been separated from their loved ones. Understand, during the first few months, some have second thoughts about staying on. A few eventually decide to return home. Those who stay can be considered to have passed the litmus test. But at the end of Form 1, many would more or less be ready for life in the Big School. All that talk about ‘green ladies’, ‘flat face’ and the other ghostly apparitions does not scare them anymore.
So, what is so exciting about life in MCKK? Does it have anything to do with the camaraderie and brotherhood that is promoted in the college? The competitive spirit nurtured in all aspects of activities? Or even the food.
Food was a significant feature of college life. Some may have complained about the beef served, which were anything but tender. But at the end of most meals, many would ask for more. During breakfast, most also groused about the half-boiled eggs being too hard. Then again, seldom were there any left-overs after breakfast. Some would attest that the Nasi Kawah (rice cooked in large cauldron) cooked by the houseboys were to die for and cemented the camaraderie. Or maybe, to give food for thoughts.
Some were known to leave ‘incubated’ eggs for target practice, and the Prefects were always the unfortunate targets. On the other hand, many often went out of their way to befriend the Prefects so that they could enjoy more than the usual number of chances to dine at the high table. A high-table dinner was when the food would be served at its best, many would agree. This was not surprising since all high tables dishes were specially prepared by the matron herself.
But talking about food in MCKK, one can never forget Pak Din’s canteen nasi lemak, Rex’s kuay teow, Queen’s egg steak, Pak Kassim’s cucur udang, Saudah’s nasi campur and also Kuala Kangsar’s Yut Loy famous pau, not to mention the popular mee bandung sold at the collegian’s popular haunts, the Riviera or now Lembah? Who knows it could have been a combination of such food that has made the MCKK old boys what they are when they enter professional life!
What about the competitive spirit? The college motto is Fiat Sapientia Virtus or Manliness Through Wisdom which means a healthy body is a healthy mind. As far as competition goes, sports and games are given a lot of emphasis. At one time, MCKK was seldom beaten at rugby. In rugby, MCKK’s Annual Match with Vajiravudh (Vaji) College of Bangkok is an eagerly awaited game to test each other’s prowess in the game. Though MCKK has won much less matches than Vaji, the spirit of keeping on fighting (lawan tetap lawan) is there in the players. At other games such as soccer, hockey and cricket, the college had mixed fortune – it would be strong one year but hopelessly mediocre another season. MCKK has even broke the barriers in non – traditional games like Basketball or Table Tennis which was then dominated by a single race. It shows to prove through hard work and training, obstacles can be overcome.
In hockey or football, MCKK’s annual encounter with neighbouring Clifford School, its bitter rival is an exciting affair. In fact, in front of the Big School, there is a cannon permanently aimed at Clifford’s front gate! Now, with the Dewan Merdeka being demolished, there is a clear unobstructed shot to Clifford.
For many years, they were the top school in squash those days since there were no other schools with a squash court. MCKK had two! That also goes for swimming. MCKK had two swimming pools – one with water and the other one without water! MCKK is also the undisputed SEA Regional No. 1 champion for the game of Eton Fives for many years. The raison d’etre is that MCKK is the only one playing the game in this region!
Recently, the games of Eton Fives were revived by Old Boys and MCKK and for two years running, MCKK has been sending teams to compete in the National Schools Eton Fives Championship in UK. That year, they managed to beat Eton College 9-0 in the preliminary rounds but they were ousted by Shrewsbury College in the quarter finals. Not bad for a team that started playing the ancient sports of Fives only two years before. Oh yes, MCKK has two Fives court. Now, Eton College can be dubbed as the ‘MCKK of the West’ with the trouncing of their Fives team in a namesake game they started years ago.
The competitive spirit however is not just confined to sports. There is also an intense inter-house rivalry in just about any activity – inter house debates, talentine contests, elocution as well as the Annual Quran reading competition. Some have been known to be competitive about the number of times they got sent to detention class.
Though many ex-collegians now excel in the corporate jungle, business was never seriously taught in MCKK. Some had stints in the school cooperative or sold tickets for concerts. Each year, the Fifth Formers organize an annual concert and tickets are sold to the Kuala Kangsar public to generate some income. Others were known to have volunteered to go and buy Kuay Teow or ‘nasi lemak’ for a fee, while yet others conducted tuition classes for the juniors.
Maybe those who now shine in the corporate world are those who were especially active in such business activities during their MCKK years while those who have made it in politics may have been active in the debates and elocution contests. Those that in leadership roles are those who were especially exemplary Prefects in the Prefects Board or Head of co-curriculum clubs or associations.
But one thing is for sure – many who have studied the MCKK model would agree that the spirit (or ‘speret’ as they fondly called it) of competition and the brotherhood or camaraderie nurtured over many years was the single most important factor which has helped shape the professional life of graduates. The formidable MCKK network was born out of such a spirit.
Marginal gains. You take the best performing 120 boys after standard 6, you then continually and incrementally improve them each year. Akin to British Cycling team. Without the doping!