Publication Date: 23.09.2001

Publication: Sunday Star    

Section: Education

Page 6 Title: Education  

 

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Lessons learnt at Kirkby

 

Byline: Chiam Tah Wen

 

A night to remember and a time to catch up on shared memories, Sept 15 saw a gathering of 500 ex-Kirkby teacher trainees.They were in the ballroom of the Concorde Hotel Kuala Lumpur to celebrate the founding of the Malayan Teachers Training College Kirkby in England 50 years ago.

 

These Kirkbyites, as they are referred to, came from different parts of the globe for the grand reunion and were seen embracing one another with tears of joy. A number came from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, Singapore and Hong Kong.

 

Some had not met up since they left the college and the reunion proved a wonderful opportunity to exchange stories and share experiences. Many took to dancing the Gay Gordons, St Bernard's Waltz and the Barn Dance just like in the days of old –– spontaneous and unrestrained.

 

Others revelled in songs like Oh My Papa (a tribute to our beloved principal Papa Gurney who had been at the helm of the college for more than 10 years), Rasa Sayang and Que Sera Sera. When the 40-member choir sang the college song, the Golden Chersonese, the Sultanah of Perak, Tuanku Bainum, a Kirkbyite herself and patron of the golden jubilee celebration, was seen singing with gusto.

 

The ballroom burst into rounds of applause.

 

Who could forget that Kirkby was the first ever college set up by the government of a country to train her teachers in a faraway land? This bold pioneer experiment was unique, unprecedented and successful beyond expectation.

 

Who would ever forget Kirkby when we saw in the multimedia presentation the arrival of the Chief Minister of the Federation of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra at Kirkby on February 7, 1956, to announce for the first time that the country would be fully independent on August 31, 1957?

 

Who would not be proud when in 1956 some of our students were cast in A Town like Alice, co-starring with Virginia McKenna in the film shot on location in London, Australia and Malaya?

 

Who would not recall with pride some of the lifelong friendships forged in Kirkby with the tutors, their children and the local community?

 

As remarked by our Head of the English Department Alexander Walker in the special farewell edition the college Student Teacher-Trainers' Union magazine:

 

''Just as the name of Ithaca has travelled even as far as Troy (Book XIII of the Odyssey), the name of Malaya has travelled as far as Merseyside and other parts of the world.''

 

At the reunion dinner, a special memento was presented to an 82-year-old couple Mr and Mrs R.A. Gillis who were the Kirkby residents and the foster parents of many Kirkbyites over the years.

 

Another special memento was presented to Mr and Mrs Christopher Walters who flew in from Kent, England, specially to join the 500 Kirkbyites in the Golden Jubilee celebration. Christopher is the eldest son of our late senior Mathematics lecturer. His parents had been inviting our maths option students (the writer being one) every fortnight without fail to their flat on the campus for tea (as filling as dinner, with Malayan dishes thrown in).

 

Christopher was nine years old in 1954, an inquisitive and intelligent lad with his school bag full of mathematical toys and puzzles. His younger brother Godfrey, five years old then, was fond of cycling. Christopher is a Water Engineer currently working with business interests in South East Asia while Godfrey has been recently appointed Professor of the Water Engineering Department in the University of Exeter, England. These two men have grown up in the Kirkby environment and must have sweet memories too!

 

 

J. Keneddy, senior lecturer in History, stated in the same special farewell edition of the magazine:

 

''At Kirkby I have come to know Malaya… There is so much that comes to mind… The festivals, the plays, the sightseeing excursions… But the thread that runs through the whole fabric of Kirkby memories is the very human one of personal relationships… I will cherish the memory of many real friendships made here.''

 

As a student in Kirkby from 1954 to 1956 and again in 1962 for a Specialist Teacher Trainers course, I came to value something very intangible: the fostering of human relationships, the importance of goodwill and esprit de corps.

 

The multi-racial and multi-religious Kirkby community taught me how to appreciate the unique features and strengths of the Malayan society as Kirkby itself was a miniature Malaya. The need to love and be loyal to the country, the willingness to walk that extra mile for the welfare of the people and the ability to cope with challenges positively was something we did not learn from a textbook.

 

I believe the Kirkbyites have acquired such valuable attributes through living in a closely knit community which called for a greater sense of give and take. They picked up knowledge and skills mainly through the classroom.

 

However, the learning of a positive value system was essentially through the borderless classroom: through what I regarded as the hidden curriculum at Kirkby.

 

We interacted with our lecturers, peers and the local community through organising various festivals and the Merdeka day itself. We travelled widely on a shoe-string budget, seeing places through hitch-hiking and staying at youth hostels. We learned to endure hardship and face the unknown.