“In Malacca I saw the world and you are its guardians,” said Director-General Irina Bokova before hundreds of students from the Muzaffar Syah Science Secondary School in Malacca, part of UNESCO’s network of Associated Schools, on 23 May.
Malacca became a World Heritage site in 2008, recognized for its unique multicultural heritage resulting from centuries of exchanges between East and West, the influence of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonization, and trading with India, China and Europe. This heritage is alive to this day through a blend of architectural styles, the coexistence of religions and languages, music, dances and other traditions.
The Street of Harmony, visited by the Director-General, embodies this heritage of tolerance, being home to one of the first Hindu temples built in Malaysia, a mosque with distinct Chinese and Sumatran influences, one of the oldest Buddhist Chinese temples in the country and a church dating back to the Portuguese era. Mrs Bokova also had a private tour of the house of the late Tan Cheng Lock, the first president of the Chinese Malaysian Association, offering rich insight into the history of the Chinese community in Malaysia.
Mrs Bokova emphasized to students at that Muzaffar Syah Science Secondary School that Malacca's heritage “belongs to the whole of humanity. It is up to you to cherish, preserve and protect it, to pass it onto future generations.”
The school, located on the hilltops of Malacca, is one of Malaysia's high-performing "smart schools,” specialized in the sciences. It is a boarding school more specifically catering to children from disadvantaged families with a record of high academic performance. Beyond traditional disciplines ranging from mathematics and biology to history and geography, the school offers a multilingual curriculum that includes language courses in Mandarin, Arabic, French, German and Japanese, in addition to English which is compulsory.
Mr. Haji Rosland Bin Hussein from the Ministry of Education, emphasized the government's priority on strengthening the education system to prepare students for the challenges of the future. Speaking about the importance of a multilingual education, he added that “learning a language means learning a culture and becoming more tolerant.”
Praising Malaysia for putting education at the center of its development agenda, the Director-General affirmed that “when we aspire to have peace and security, we need science to search for responses to climate change, to protect biodiversity, to manage water. We need innovation to find new solutions that will benefit communities. With your curiosity and hard work you will find these solutions.” She urged girls to follow scientific careers, informing them about UNESCO's advocacy to promote women in science.
She also paid tribute to the school’s teachers affirming that “no single new technology can substitute for a good teacher. Teachers ignite curiosity and the ambition to learn more, they are also responsible for transmitting certain values of dignity, tolerance, openness and respect for diversity. This is the basis for living together peacefully and understanding each other.”
The students welcomed Mrs Bokova around stands demonstrating the school's creative and student-centred approach: a video made by and starring students about Malacca's heritage, water recycling and robotics projects, and discovery of foreign languages and cultures through cooking, calligraphy and other expressions. The school also organizes a range of activities, including trips to World Heritage sites, participation of youth in international conferences and fora, celebrations of UNESCO’s International Days, community service work and essay writing competitions.
In leaving, the Director-General said to the students, “I want you to achieve all your dreams, you are UNESCO’s messengers.”
During the Director-General's stay in Malacca, the Chief Minister hosted a dinner in her honour, in the presence of the Governor of Malacca, Mr. Mohd Khalil bin Yaakob, during which music and dance performances testified to Malacca's cultural diversity.