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Farewell, Brother Charles

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Today, St Xavier’s Institution celebrates the 160th anniversary of the La Salle Brothers’ landing in Penang in 1852 to take over this mission school. P Ramakrishnan pays tribute to Brother Charles Levin, who arrived in the school over a hundred years later in 1954. His was a total dedication and complete commitment to his calling.

Brother Charles Levin
Brother Charles Levin

Brother Charles Levin sadly passed away in the early hours of the morning, 4.14am on Sunday, 14 October 2012. He was 85. He had given 62 years of his life to the cause of education.

He was the longest-serving principal of St Xavier’s Institution. For 13 years (1966-1979), he held that position.

He had been with SXI since 1954, chalking up 25 years of devoted service to the school. He spent another 10 years (1982-1992) with St George’s Institution in Taiping. Upon retirement, he returned to SXI and stayed on for another 20 years before his passing.

Much has been written about his contributions and achievements. It serves no purpose to repeat them. However, there is one aspect of his tenure that needs mentioning.

His headship of SXI was during a period of unrest in the teaching profession. Teachers were very frustrated because their maximum salaries and status had steadily and alarmingly eroded. In 1948, their maximum salary was RM751; in 1953, it went down to RM636; and in 1960, it plummeted to RM560.

On top of that, teachers lost their government status, became non-pensionable, were denied their housing allowances and lost their medical benefits. Women teachers did not have equal pay. As a result, members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) launched a series of industrial actions, finally culminating in the one and only teachers’ strike in April 1967 for better benefits.

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At that time, SXI had the biggest union membership; over sixty teachers were union members. You can imagine the effect the industrial action had on the school.

But Brother Charles never interfered with the union action; he never coerced anyone to break ranks with the union. He understood why they had to do what they did. And when the teachers walked out at 10 o’clock in the morning for their mini strike, Brother Charles was walking up and down the corridor to maintain discipline.

For 62 years, he had devoted himself to education. His was a total dedication and complete commitment to his calling. One has to admire his passion for giving of his best.

Like him, many missionary educators throughout the country have enriched our education and turned out many exemplary citizens of character. Their involvement certainly raised the standards of education and inculcated good values in the students.

All of them came from far off countries, made Malaysia their home, became citizens and ended their lives here. But their contributions have hardly been recognised or been adequately rewarded. This is, indeed, shameful.

I have never heard of a single missionary teacher being conferred the Tokoh Guru title in recognition of and to honour their immense selfless service to education and to the nation. It is not proper that they be bypassed and forgotten without any recognition. That won’t speak well of us as a nation.

It is still not too late to rectify this oversight. It will be in keeping with this sentiment if Brother Charles were to be conferred the national Tokoh Guru title posthumously next year. This is what the thousands of students who had benefited greatly from the excellent missionary school education are looking forward to. We hope that the Ministry of Education will look into this.

P Ramakrishnan, a Kirkby-trained teacher, taught visually impaired pupils in St Xavier’s Institution from 1965 to 1974 under an integrated programme for the blind.

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