In the sixties, when I went to my alma mater, Chung Ling, it was not an elite school.
Penang in the sixties were not like today. Not much of cars; most people took bus to work or to schools. Life was slow paced, there were plenty of bicycles and trishaws around . Most people knew their neighbours very well; during festive seasons, exchanges of kueh and food among neighbours were common. The past time after dinner was not TVs , but to sit in front of the house and watch the world go by.
At that time, most people sent thier children to English schools, and the elite schools in Penang were the Penang Free School (PFS), St Xaviers, and MBS.
ALthough the middle and middle lower class of Chinese Malaysians in Penang sent their children to Chinese primary schools, the elite Chinese tend to sent their chidlren to English schools and overseas education, meaning Britain, after that. Even among those who went to Chinese primary schools, many continued their secondary education in English secondary schools.
Chung Ling was about the only subsidised Chinese High School for boys in the Island in those days. ( Penang Chinese Girls High School was for girls). Han Chiang was an independent High School and was struggling at that time to survive, because enrolment was small. There was a Phor Thay HIgh School which was a very small co-ed Buddhist High school
So most of those who wished their children to continue in Chinese stream after finishing Chinese Primary schools sent their children either to Chung Ling or Penang Chinese Girls High School depending on the gender.
When I entered Chung Ling, my year had 13 classes, each had about 45 students. Jewels as well as rubbish, including this writer, were accepted as long as they met the minimum requirements.
Among the students were children of hawkers, newspapers vendors, labourers, odd job workers, teachers, shopkeepers, washing ladies etc etc etc. Most of these students , including myself, had practically no contact with English before starting school. (no TV then)
There were some who were from rich families (like the VIP I mentioned in the last post), but these were in the minorities. In the morning, most went to schools by foot or by bus. Very few had the luxury of being sent to schools in private cars. You do not find the jam that happens in front of most schools nowadays in those days.
Initially, I had to walk to school, from Reservoir Garden where I stayed to the High School in Kampong Baru, about 20 minutes walk. Later, I had the luxury of being given a bicycle by my dad ( a joy that lasted me for so many weeks), a Pheonix Brand bicycle from China, and from that time onwards, I cycled to school. In fact the bicycle was still with me when I came down KL to work in the eighties, and I maintained it till it was given away to my gardener a few years ago ( who had been pestering me to give him the bike for so long), when I decided( or rather my wife decided) that at my age, to ride a bicycle in PJ or KL was like trying to invite disaster to happen.
Sorry for the sidetrack, and now back to the topic.
I was trying to tell my readers that at that time the school was like “rojak” and full of rubbish materials. The problem facing the school was how to turn these ‘rubbish’ into useful materials.
I had a classmate who had to deliver newsapapers every morning before coming to work. I had a classmate who had to work in the afternoon at a Kway Teow Stall to help his family. Not to mention the many of them who wore patched up uniforms to school . In those days, when there was a hole in your shirt, you just asked your mum to sew a small patch of unwanted cloth over to cover the hole. Most had no pocket money to spend during recess, and most of us drank straight from the tap.
Of course, in a ‘rojak’, you also had the rare rich guys who were children of some rubber magnates who would come to school in chaffeur-driven Mercs. Most of these were sons of directors of the school board.
Those times in Penang were not unlike some of the rural areas in Malaysia now.
The point I am trying to put across is that despite all these hardship and handicaps, most of my form mates ( not just classmates) made it in lives. IN my batch, there were more than 15 doctors, many lawyers, countless engineers and accountants, universities lecturers , professors etc etc etc
I still have a souvenir book on our 25 year get-together anniversary held in Rasa Sayang Penang some years Back. Most of the form mates were doing well. Many were overseas but took the trouble to come back for the reunion. Coming up will be our 40 year anniversay, and I expect to see many coming back from abroad. Many, sad to say, have also migrated to the other world.
The success of them, many from very poor families, illustrates (or at least supports ) the success of my school’s policy in using English to teach Science and mAths, despite being a CHinese secondary school.
I am just one of the thousand success stories from my school, and most of these guys were from poor families. The guy that delivered newspapers graduated from MU with engineering degree and had been with RRI for so many years and he had finally retired. Both my parents were teachers and so you can classify me as middle class but teachers in those days had no side income from tuition and were considered one of the poorer professions.
Some of them, from lower middle class families, now head multinationals, including Motorola, Infineon, George Kent etc.
The success of my school in the 60s slowly made it into an elite school and perhaps in the mid 70s, it had become one, along side with PFS, St Xaviers, MBS and so on. But during my time, it was not.
I write these to emphasize the points made in my last post –” teach Maths and Scinece in English at secondary level”– that the experience from my school, which was actually a bold experiemnt, can be used an example to show the whole nation that teaching of Science and Maths in English at secondary level do have an advantage. It would better prepare the students for tertiary level.
This is not empty talks only, but real results from a bold experiment carried out by a school board which was farsighted and dared to go agianst the tide of the Chinese Chauvinists who actually criticised the policy to use English to teach Science and Maths in my school.
In medicine, we treat illness based on evidence based experience. In real life, we can also use evidence based success story to treat the ailment in our education system.
P.S. I am spending time writing these last 2 posts out of my genuine concern about the direction of our education policy. There is nothing more important than education if we want our nation to move forward and not be marginalised, and for future generations to achieve the upward mobility that is the hallmark of developed society.