The Star Online

Education

Sunday December 21, 2008

Down memory lane

INSTEAD of the usual gathering of former students, Kirkby Alumni took a different approach with its reunion celebrations this year. Held late November, the two-day event focused on the theme, ‘Half a Century of Educational Contribution towards the Malaysian National Aspiration’.

The spotlight was on four main events: the launching of the book, Kirkby College - A Heritage, a three-day photo exhibition, an education convention, and a reunion dinner graced by Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) Chancellor Raja Permaisuri Perak Tuanku Bainun, herself a Kirkby graduate.

The 320-page Kirkby College documents the background and achievements of the college and its alumni. It contains exclusive information gathered from personal interviews and the National Archives. The book, edited by 1954-56 and 1962 alumnus Chiam Tah Wen, took over a year to complete.

Speaking at the launch on behalf of the Minister of Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage, Deputy Minister Teng Boon Soon hailed the book as a national treasure and urged everybody to read it. Teng also said that plans to set up a National Education Museum were underway, as the ministry had approved a working paper submitted by the Pro-Chancellor of UPSI, Tan Sri Dr Yahaya Ibrahim.

In his speech earlier, Dr Yahaya had said that without a national education museum, the artifacts and paraphernalia of education would not be preserved and might be lost forever.

The fellowship of the ‘Kirkbyites’ and their spouses on the first night of the reunion was filled with hugs and handshakes. There were sing-alongs, karoke sessions and a constant exchange of anecdotes of their halcyon days in Liverpool 50 years ago. Close rapport, informality and much merriment marked the evening.

During the education convention the next day, the speeches by Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, Datuk Professor Dr Ahmad Ibrahim Bajunid and the Deputy Pro-Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, Professor Diana Burton, were spiced with humour and drew enthusiastic responses from the appreciative crowd.

Hishammuddin said that the primary school system was being reassessed to stimulate thinking and enable children to discover the joy in learning. With reference to post-service for educators, he urged the Kirkby Alumni and other experts to help the ministry in this matter as “our resources are limited, especially now that there is a global economic meltdown”.

The formal reunion dinner in the evening saw the launching of the Bahasa Malaysia edition of Kirkby College. The climax of the night was the award of Tokoh Alumni Kirkby to three outstanding Kirkby personalities, namely Tuanku Bainun, Dr Yahaya, who is also Kirkby College Alumni Association president, and Tan Sri G. Vadiveloo, former president of the Senate.

A video depicting glimpses of Kirkby history was shown, invoking much nostalgia and happy memories. When the UPSI band struck up the college’s song, Golden Chersonese, the 250 ‘Kirkbyites’ present, wearing blazers embossed with the college crest, all sang along with gusto.

A number of students who had been taught by Kirkby-trained teachers talked enthusiastically about how these teachers changed them and transformed their lives.

Specialist-trained teacher Mat Isa said that the creativity and diligence of his headmaster, Syed Abu Bakar, inspired him to become a teacher.

“Tuan Syed Abu Bakar started the English school from zero, with not a chair, a desk or even a piece of chalk,” recalled Mat Isa.

“He was not only the headmaster but also everything else - office boy, clerk, school caretaker, sweeper, canteen-man and teacher. He collected school fees by barter trading: parents brought eggs and chickens in lieu of cash.”

Kirkby-trained teacher Mahmud Hassan related his experience of being posted to a school in Tutong, Brunei, back in 1958. He had to work almost 12 hours a day, and there was no electricity or running water. He was often exhausted, but the smiles of his students made it all worth it.

“I looked forward to going to Brunei town at weekends for a change and to be with other Kirkby teachers,” said Mahmud, adding that he would usually get a free ride into town on timber lorries.

“The lorry attendant had to give up his seat for me and perch on top of the pile of timber at the back. Imagine the laughter I got from the Kirkby teachers the moment the timber lorry dropped me in front of their flats.”

Many Kirkby-trained teachers were transformed during their two-year stay in England, as observed by Datuk Yunus Raiss. “They came as raw young men and women gawky in gait, and returned home polished ladies and gentlemen with savoir-faire,” he said.

Many members of the alumni regard Kirkby College as an emotional landmark. This writer, however, prefers to call Kirkby a phenomenon. No words can adequately describe the impact the college has had on Malaysian education and the country over the last half a century. Or, for that matter, the enduring legacy of Kirkby. ­– By CHIAM TAH WEN

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