Penang has generally been overwhelmed by deep sorrow over the tragic loss of a teacher and 5 students of Chung Ling National Type Secondary School during the dragon boat training mishap in waters off Macallum Street Ghaut on Sunday 17 January 2010. These are no ordinary students and teacher.
Goh Yi Zhang, 17, Brendon Yeoh, Wang Yong Xian, 16, Jason Ch’ng, 17, and Cheah Zi Jun, 17 were top students, the creme de la creme who excelled in academic studies, extra-curricular activities and social involvement. The teacher Chin Aik Siang, 28, was even more outstanding scoring straight As in STPM. Living in a low-cost flat in Bagan, Chin qualified to study medicine but switched a few weeks later to his love, teaching.
And this is no ordinary school. Chung Ling is amongst the top schools in Penang and still produces some of the top students. Its alumni rank amongst the captains and leaders in economics, education, politics and industry be it manufacturing or services both in and outside Penang. And the school dragon boat team is the top in the state.
As the tributes to the departed end and the plaintive cries of the funeral fades, what remains is a huge empty hole for not just the parents and family members but also the school and their friends. One can hardly empathise the inconsolable grief endured by a parent losing a child. What made the loss of the six more keen was the sheer loss of top human talent and potential unrealised that the country can ill afford.
The Penang state government extends its deepest sympathies and hopes that the family members can be comforted by their pride in raising a child of such outstanding quality. And their grief be eased by the wonderful memories that brought them joy and brightened up the lives of those they touch.
Whilst this loss may remind us on the fragility of life that cuts youthful promise before its prime, we should not just bewail fate alone. The Penang state government will act pro-actively by proposing safety and regulatory measures that were deemed unnecessary in the past. Whilst the Penang Education Department had immediately pinned the blame on Chung Ling school, justice and fair play demands that a full public and independent inquiry must first be held before judgment is passed.
More importantly there must be more opportunities offered for students to nurture excellence. There is something wrong with our education system that stresses students beyond their physcial limits. We can no longer burden our students with excessive pursuit of extra-curricular points, which are now compulsory, to get scholarships and university places.
A mark of good leadership is not merely the ability to show a better performance than others but that room and opportunity is offered for others to perform better than the leaders. Similarly to fulfill the promise of youth, we do not just build the future for our youth, but we must build our youth for the future. This is the promise Penang will try to accomplish to build not only a more desirable Penang but equip our youth with the capacity and ability to face the future.