August 13, 2015

Victorians will be yet wiser

VIBGYOR. “VIB” as in to fib, “GYOR” as in someone saying gear with a thick Kelantanese accent. As if fibbing in Malay was not enough to get out of detention class.

We were made to learn it, though. V-I-B-G-Y-O-R: “VI boys get your own rifles.”

Mr Francis, our Form Three science master, said it was the easiest method to remember the descending order of the rainbow colours: violet-indigo-blue-green-yellow-orange-red.

Now I can’t forget it.

That and other oddities are collected at the Victoria Institution (VI) by students, and when added up, they look and stack up just like any other life experience, so what’s so special?

A few things, primarily the culture, instilled into these Victorians:

Act like the King of the Hill

Tomorrow is Founders Day, students of the Victoria Institution present and past remember — as we do in the school song’s first verse — those whose foresight and devotion gave us our alma mater.

With the education ministry woefully letting the public schools slip year by year with scandalous excuses as cover, I write about aspects and memories of the VI that was, that can be an instructive model for bureaucrats and reflection for current students at the school on Petaling Hill, every year this time.

What’s so special about the VI education?

To begin with, being a Victorian means earning it every day at school. 

There is an expectation without exception for each boy to contribute to the school, not just attend school. That’s made clear.

That though historically it is a privilege to be admitted as a first former at the VI, there is no reason for anyone especially a puny pre-pubescent twelve-year-old to feel privileged.

The tool to ensure all boys are working not flaunting is competition. A real VI boy competes, and he competes hard.

Which is why the pecking order among the boys is decided not on whose dad is Attorney-General but who has initiative, leadership, courage and personality.

Run, walk, jump or chair a meeting

Well, whatever’s your cup of tea.

Books are important, most certainly.

There are classes with teachers and assignments to be completed, of course. The reading, writing and counting check-boxed so that universities would accept us when we are done with our leaving examinations, but classroom obligations cannot bar the Victorian from the playing fields or activity quadrangle.

There are the uniform groups and students have to choose one. There is the world-touring school band side by side with the infantry. And two scouts troops to pick from. Why does a school with slightly more than a thousand students have two scouts divisions? Because they are the two oldest scout movements in the country, it would be rude to dismantle either one.

The prefects’ board is the oldest in South-east Asia, which tells the other story — VI discipline. They — the prefects — are selected from active students with competent grades, not bookworms with passing interests in sports and community. It was a place for leaders, to bring out the leadership in other students, to set the school’s tone.

They were all pioneers for Malaysian schools, they were the templates.  

In the same universe, there were about 60 clubs and societies — from cultural, special interest, science to stamps.

Which is just half the story, since there’s sports.

There is the internal competition between the eight sports houses — Lee Kuan Yew (formerly Hepponstall) has been winning too much, but my Thamboosamy has not been too shabby the last three decades — and then the school teams in all the sports the state allows. Football, water-polo, rugby, hockey, cricket, tennis, golf and anything else on ESPN.

It would be easy enough to list all the state, national, international successes — and no school in the country comes close to matching the volume or range — but our pride is in that a phenomenal number of our students play sports and run organisations, competing against themselves and students from elsewhere without worry of whether we have the capacity or talent.

To compete is an opportunity, a chance to showcase talent even if it ends in defeat. To not compete, that is a worse outcome for the young in their journey to know themselves. And growing up without healthy competition can lead to an even worse reality, a belief that winning without competition is a good thing.

Rarely a VI boy leaves school without understanding the dynamics of competition.

Nine to five

It is often incestuous the manner in which some alumni fill up certain industries and roll out the carpet for their juniors thereafter — it happens in politics too as I have seen up close and personal.

Not so for Victorians.

If anything, they tend to be harsher on other Victorians in the various fields of work. Almost like saying to each other, “Hey, you’ve got a decent education and know how it feels to be kicked in the nuts, can you show me what you got?”

Being a VI boy is no free ride, no ticket to self-entitlement. Worked hard in school? Well work hard in life too, old boy!

Which explains the army of Victorians who’ve thrived abroad and continue to do so. Competitors can compete anywhere, from the Singaporean Cabinet to the Superior Court in Alaska. Talent Corp should be running through our alumni roll to locate who they should seduce to return home.

On the same token, Victorians appreciate special people they meet after school. When it is drilled in that application matters more than talent, the willingness to work with those from diverse backgrounds is second-nature.

There are occasional disgruntled voices on how membership to the VI family does not come along with career paths, but with the power of hindsight today, I want to tell them but that’s what renders the typical Victorians fiercely independent. You expect leaders to be like that.

I only bemoan the chipping away of that tradition in the VI today by an intolerant ministry, overindulgent parents and ad hoc policies preventing present students to be as active as they possibly can be or want to be.

Even over drinks

I have to admit though, sometimes the competitiveness can go overboard. A game of cards at Chinese New Year can go full throttle even when the bets are coins, and the only coping mechanism is bad jokes. 

Going to a boys school is synonymous to being dipped in crass humour without the danger of drowning. For nothing is holy, not when the boys get together.

Yet I’m continuously humbled that I went through a system where individualism is grounded in exchange, passion and grudging respect — which all real competitors acquire.  

So happy birthday VI, turning 122 tomorrow.

That we always see ourselves in the order of the school song’s three verses. To thank those who gave us the VI, to remember those who walked through the hallowed corridors before us so we respect the benchmark, and to push ourselves in school and beyond to honour them all.

So that we do get off our arses and get our own damn rifles to hit our mark in life.

That we will always, always, be yet wiser.

Praba Ganesan (V.I. 1985 - 1991)

VI The V.I. Web Page

Pagekeeper: Chung Chee Min

Created: 28 November 2016.
Last update: 28 November 2016.