By: Tengku Adrian Ismail
BOARDING schools in Malaysia are revered for their rich traditions and holistic approach to education. Amidst the tightly-knit communities that these institutions foster, an interesting dynamic emerges – the interaction between seniors and juniors. While some may hastily label certain senior behaviours as “bullying,” it’s crucial to examine these interactions through a lens that acknowledges the potential positive outcomes of these experiences.
The perception challenge
In the close-knit environment of boarding schools such as Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), with its rich history and tradition, an atmosphere is cultivated where the influence of seniority significantly shapes the character of the students.
As with most boarding schools, seniors often take on a mentorship role, guiding juniors through the maze of school life. However, these interactions, intended to foster camaraderie, discipline, and a sense of belonging, can sometimes be misconstrued as bullying. It is important to recognise that what may appear as harsh treatment often serves a higher purpose, contributing to personal growth and character development.
One of the unintended yet positive consequences of the interactions between seniors and juniors is the cultivation of resilience. These experiences, which may include challenging tasks or initiation rituals, are designed to test the mettle of students. While it’s not to condone any form of harmful behaviour, the intention is to instill a sense of fortitude that can prove invaluable in navigating life’s challenges beyond the school gates.
The relationships formed in boarding schools are often characterised by a unique bond that extends beyond the conventional student-teacher dynamic. Seniors, in their role as mentors, contribute significantly to the creation of a supportive community. The seemingly tough treatment fosters a shared experience among students, creating a camaraderie that can last a lifetime. As juniors grow into seniors, they often reflect on these shared experiences with gratitude, recognising the impact on their personal development.
Learning from tradition
Boarding schools in Malaysia, much like their global counterparts, often draw inspiration from longstanding traditions. These traditions, while occasionally misunderstood, play a pivotal role in shaping the school’s identity and fostering a strong sense of belonging among students. By understanding the context and intent behind these traditions, we can appreciate the positive influence they have on shaping well-rounded individuals.
An institution like MCKK draws parallels with renowned establishments like England’s Eton College, emphasising the significance of traditions and camaraderie. While some may perceive certain treatments by seniors as “bullying,” it is essential to explore the positive outcomes and transformative experiences that can arise from these dynamics.
Understanding the dynamics
Seniority in boarding schools is deeply rooted in fostering a sense of discipline, responsibility, and mentorship. Students, especially newcomers, may experience what seems like rigorous initiation rituals. However, it is crucial to differentiate between genuine bullying and the initiation processes that aim to integrate students into the school’s culture.
At Malay College Kuala Kangsar and Eton College alike, seniors play a pivotal role in guiding juniors, instilling a sense of pride in their alma mater, and upholding longstanding traditions. The seemingly strict treatment may be a rite of passage, designed to build resilience and unity among students.
The fine line
Recognising the nuances of interpersonal dynamics in educational settings is crucial, as the distinction between tough love and bullying can occasionally become blurred. While instances of authentic bullying demand swift and effective intervention, it’s noteworthy that certain brotherly initiation rituals, designed to foster camaraderie and resilience, may, at times, tread a fine line.
Despite the initial perception of rigidity, many students reflecting on such experiences express a profound sense of gratitude for the enduring bonds and fortitude instilled through these rituals. In these instances, it becomes evident that what might seem as challenging initially can contribute significantly to personal growth and the formation of lasting connections among students.
The positive outcomes of these practices are manifold. Students develop a strong sense of camaraderie, creating lifelong bonds that extend beyond the school years. The experiences become shared stories that contribute to the unique identity of the institution. Furthermore, the resilience built through these processes prepares students for challenges in the real world, fostering a spirit of determination and tenacity.
It has been often said that MCKK and Eton College share a common commitment to academic excellence, character development, and tradition. Both institutions have produced notable alumni who attribute their success, in part, to the values instilled during their time at these schools. The camaraderie among students, regardless of seniority, is a cornerstone of the ethos of these institutions.
While it is crucial to discern between positive traditions and harmful behaviours, there is an opportunity to foster open dialogue within boarding school communities. Encouraging students to express their feelings and ensuring that lines of communication are open can contribute to a healthier and more understanding environment. By embracing a positive perspective, schools can continue to evolve, adapting their traditions to better suit the needs and sensitivities of each generation.
In rethinking the dynamics of seniority in Malaysian boarding schools, it is important to recognise the potential positive outcomes of treatments that may be misconstrued as bullying. By embracing the intention behind these interactions – fostering resilience, camaraderie, and personal growth – we can appreciate the unique environment that boarding schools provide. As we navigate this complex terrain, a commitment to fostering open communication and understanding ensures that these institutions continue to be bastions of character development, academic excellence, and lifelong friendships.
Note: The viewpoint presented belongs exclusively to the author.