MARCH 27 — During the British colonial times, over a hundred years ago, in Melaka, there were already five Christian missionary schools. But of course, an early metropolitan port like Melaka would have many other forms of schooling for the early trading communities like the Chinese, Indians, etc. as well.
These five early schools are still in Melaka today. Three of them are Catholic schools: St. Francis Institution, Sacred Hearts Canossa Convent and Infant Jesus Convent, the other two are Protestant schools: Methodist Girls School and Anglo Chinese School.
The European Catholics and the Protestants were at war with each other, for many years, and this was reflected through their race to gain colonial power over as much territory as it was possible. In the 19th & 20th century, their rivalry was in South Asia, China, Japan and South- East Asia. Religious battles are still with us today, everywhere (that would be another story).
On Saturday 5 March, the Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Methodist Melaka formerly known as the Anglo Chinese School celebrated its centenary. The school started in 1910. Their sister Methodist Girls School Melaka started six years earlier. The two schools started along Jln. Tun Tan Cheng Lock (formerly Heeren Street). The boy’s school moved four times, to different locations, in that area.
Their own new building along Jalan Tengkera (formerly Trenquerah Road) was completed in 1941. The principle then was Ho Seng Ong. He and his wife and all his teachers, through their nationwide fundraising efforts, plus the support of the relevant authorities, built the first main portion of the school. Later, other parts were added with the gradual demand for classrooms. It was the school of choice from the 40s to the 70s. Now it has a lot more competition from other new schools.
Today the Methodist Church Malaysia still has 35 schools in the peninsula.
The earlier Methodist missionaries sent out here to start churches and schools were mainly Americans. The British were not that interested in educating the locals, they were more interested in exploiting the local raw materials and its people.
In many ways it was education, mainly in the mission schools and in the private Chinese schools, that first planted the seeds of Malayan nationalism which eventually drove the British out, more than 50 years ago.
It was the deep dedication and perseverance of the earlier Christian headmasters and teachers (such as W.G. Shellabear and M. Dodsworth, to just name a few) that made education possible for many Malayans, in the early years, and later, Malaysians of all races.
With an education, many of us can better improve our social and economic positions. We can also all aspire for civil liberties and human rights.
More than 1,000 ex-students and present ones, ex-teachers and current ones, came together for a dinner, at the school compound, to celebrate the centenary of their school. It was an “electric” kind of an evening. Voices filled the air. Well over 1,000 stories -- memories and news -- were all busting out simultaneously like invisible fireworks.
Many ex-teachers were meeting up with ex-students after 30 or 40 years. Lots of long-lost school- or class-mates were looking around frantically, among the large crowd, to reestablish contact of old times.
Some had come from as far away as Australia. Lots of them have not been back to their old school since the day they left it. Groups of class-mates have not seen or heard from each other for many years. Many gathered there were well over 80 years old. Others were younger and still at school.
One of the many old ACS fellows was Dr Wong Kong Ming. He is now living in Adelaide, Australia, with his family. He flew in just for the occasion. His father, Wong Soon Cheng, was an ex-teacher of the ACS primary.
“I can still recollect how happy the students were when they finally moved into their new building in 1941, with proper classroom furniture, with their own ACS insignia etc. In those days we were taught to love reading, dancing and singing besides our school work. Although our teachers were strict they had hearts of gold,” he said.
He went, “But the unfortunate part was that in that same year, in December; the Japanese army bicycled into Malaya, through the back door, and defeated the British. So our happiness was short-lived. Our new school premises were used by the Japanese army for their training. We returned to school in September 1945 but found the school completely wrecked and looted by the locals.”
“We also found out that our school principle, Ho Seng Ong and some of his staff had been imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese during the Occupation. He was later transferred to ACS Ipoh.
“Goh Choon Lim took over the job. I finished my Senior Cambridge Examination in 1949 and later left for further studies in Singapore. After that, I had a clinic in Melaka for many years before we moved to Australia.”
Another ex-student was Dr Goh Tiow Hoe. He left school in 1961 and went on to study medicine at the University of Malaya. He is the youngest son of Goh Choon Lim. He flew in from Sydney for the dinner.
He said, “My father was the principal of ACS for 18 years, with a short break in between, to further his studies in the US; he was one of the longest serving HMs. He retired in 1968. All my brothers and sisters were from this school or the MGS.
“We’re all here tonight. We are very proud of our father and all that he had done for the school, the community and for our family. Only one of my sisters, Nellie Goh, became a teacher in this school. She taught for many years before their family moved to Singapore.”
The final words were from Bien Hock Nein, class of 1955. He said, “I had a really memorable time in my school days. My family lived far away from town. My father was a manager of a rubber plantation in Nyals near Jasin. So I become a boarding student.
“Besides school work I was very interested in scouting. We had a great scout master, the late Chua Cheng Chye. He was a motivator and a real hit with the students. However, our headmaster at that time was an American, named, C.E. Shumaker; he was the complete opposite to Chua. I had never seen such an inhumane person like Shumaker before.”
He went on, “One day in school, one of the boys, who suffered from epilepsy, suddenly went into a fit. Instead of helping the epileptic student, Shumaker paraded the boy around as if to make fun of a helpless boy who was suffering from an illness. This scene of the headmaster humiliating a student to such a degree is unforgettable. Otherwise, I am very proud of my educational heritage.”
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.