New CBN head stirs up concern

The appointment of SMK Convent Bukit Nanas (CBN’s) new principal has triggered concern among its Old Girl’s Association and the Kuala Lumpur Catholic Archdiocese.

According to representatives from both sides, Zavirah Mohd Shaari’s name was not on the list of candidates submitted by the mission school authority to the Education Ministry and was “plucked out of the blue” to take over from CBN’s former head, Ann Khoo.

In a press statement, the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Murphy Pakiam expressed his disappointment over the matter which he said was in contradiction with the government’s policy of maximum consultation.

This policy was enunciated by the government in the report of the Royal Commission on the Teaching Services, West Malaysia, repeated in 1976 by the then education minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Mahathir further reaffirmed the policy in his capacity as prime minister in 1998 when he announced that the government would continue consulting mission school authorities in appointing principals and teachers of mission schools.

“The appointment of the CBN principal is not only contrary to the government policy but has also given the impression that it is the government’s strategy to take over missions schools in total disregard for the status, ethos and special character of these schools especially CBN,” Pakiam was quoted as saying in the Catholic weekly publication, The Herald.

He had since appealed to the Director-General of Education Abdul Ghafar Mahmud to reconsider this decision and appoint an appropriately qualified principal who is nominated by the school owners.

‘Her race or religion is not an issue’

A CBN Old Girl, who asked to remain anonymous, told FMT the prime dissatisfaction revolved around the ministry breaking the longstanding agreement and bypassing the CBN board in appointing Zavirah.

“What usually happens is that the Catholic Education Council will submit the names of potential heads to the ministry,” she said.

“The ministry then has a dialogue with the nuns and the council to determine the best candidate for the post. But they have often cheated with other schools whereby a head is appointed without maximum consultation.”

Meanwhile, Sister Rosalind Tan, the Mother Provincial of Sisters of the Infant Jesus, confirmed this. She told FMT via e-mail that the name list is submitted six months before a principal’s retirement to both the ministry as well as the education director of the state in which the school is located.

“But at the end of the day the appointment comes from the ministry; they have always had the final say,” Sister Rosalind said.

She added that the missionary was not notified of Zavirah’s appointment until she reported for duty last week and even then it was a senior teacher at CBN who alerted them.

“CBN has been outstanding all these years due to the work and dedication of the principals,” Sister Rosalind stated. “The principals after 1976 have been of good calibre and people who shared the missionary thrust and knew the school’s ethos. It is they who continued our work and brought it to great heights.”

Zavirah is also the school’s first Muslim head but the Old Girl stressed that Zavirah’s race and religion was less relevant than the fact that she was selected “from nowhere”.

“Five laypersons took on the role as CBN head after Reverend Mother St Brede retired in 1976 and all five were appointed based on the maximum consultation policy,” she pointed out.

“We are not troubled that she is a Muslim only that the ministry chose its own candidate and failed to consult with the school owners on her appointment.”

But another CBN Old Girl raised concerns over the fact that this was not an isolated case nor the first of its kind.

Also declining to be named, she said that various missionary schools in Teluk Intan and Setiawan now had heads who were single-handedly selected by the ministry.

“CBN is different because it is a flagship Catholic school,” she said. “St John’s could be next and then that would be it.”

“The other schools have had their Catholic symbols eradicated. CBN has many such symbols and we worry whether Muslim heads would be comfortable being surrounded by them.”

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