Kirkby: Close to their hearts

Posted on August 28, 2005 
Filed Under Features, Julian, The Star

By Julian Matthews
Published in Star Education, The Star, Sunday August 28, 2005
(Sidebar to “Yes, sir, I’m from Kirkby”)

Originally called the Kirkby Fields Hostel, the buildings at Kirkby were first established as housing for munitions factory workers during World War 2.

VADIVELOO: We were a close-knit group. There were no racial remarks, cliques, or the polarisation we sometimes see today.

It was set up far enough from the Mersey River to escape the intense bombing suffered by Liverpool and other Merseyside cities.After the war, Britain needed to alleviate a severe shortage of teachers in the country and Kirkby was converted to become one of 55 temporary emergency colleges for that purpose.

In 1951, the last of the courses for British teachers was completed at Kirkby.

Meanwhile, in Malaya, the school population was expanding rapidly and there was also an urgent need for trained teachers, especially in rural schools. When the offer for Kirkby came up, the government of the day grabbed it.

Negotiations were made by the Federation of Malaya and the British Colonial Office to set up a college to train future teachers from Malaya there.

HEW: I am quite proud to say that I am the fierce, horn-rimmed bespectacled teacher Lat often draws.

The rationale back then was that it was better to have a whole college rather than distribute students across many colleges in Britain. Despite some protest on the expense, the plans went ahead.

Unique experiment
The pioneer principal of the college Robert Williams had noted: “By any standard, it was a unique move in the history of education. Never before had any government in the world set up its own college in Britain.”

The Malayan Teachers Training College in Kirkby accepted its first batch of 150 students on January 2, 1952.

They arrived on a cold wintry day after a three-week journey on the steamship SS Chusan.

After that, 150 trainees arrived every September in four-propeller planes. About 1,500 teachers and over 300 teacher-trainers were trained in Kirkby before the college was shut down in 1962.

Sadly, the Kirkby College that became so dear to the teachers who trained there is no more.

E. Yawanarajah, a Kirkbyite who wrote in the Kirkby Third Batch Newsletter run by Zainal Abidin Manaf in Ipoh, spoke about his visit in 1985.

ZAINAL: At that time, going to Britain was something very great. My parents were very proud and excited.

“What I saw made me really sad. The college was in a dilapidated condition. Seeing the college in ruins brought tears to my eyes.I closed my eyes and visualised the old college. I even went around looking for Block 9, Room 10 but there was no sign of it.”

Yawanarajah was captain of the cricket team and active in hockey and athletics at the college.

“The field was very close to my heart. The grass (had) grown tall.

“The cricket pitch was nowhere to be seen. Karl, the chief caretaker of the field, was also nowhere to be seen!”

On April 28 this year, Raja Permaisuri Perak Tuanku Bainun Mohd Ali, also a Kirkbyite, signed a declaration on a plaque naming a college hall at Maktab Perguruan Tuanku Bainun in Penang, Dewan Kirkby, after her alma mater.

In her message in a souvenir publication The Golden Panduan published four years earlier, Tuanku Bainun had written: “Kirkbyites can be proud that they have played a significant role in the development of teacher education in Malaya. They have contributed, and are still contributing, to the progress of the nation.

“I feel that in recognition of this historic and significant role, some form of permanent record should be thought of to perpetuate the memory of the college.”

Main Story:
Yes sir, I’m from Kirkby


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