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In Rubber Lands
An Account of the Work of the Church in Malaya

Edited by C.E. Ferguson-Davie, M.D., B.S.

London: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1921.

Chapter VI. Education

THE acquisition of territory by any country must always carry with it certain obligations and responsibilities. In all cases the land is occupied by the external power, either because of its actual or else because of its potential value. In the latter case it has to wait for its development until there is a population capable of dealing with its resources. In the former there is usually some population that can at once be turned to useful account. But there are also countries in which the two situations are found together. The tropical lands of the Malay Archipelago are a good example of this. In British Malaya there was a small population when the Union Jack was first hoisted over the various portions of territory hat make up the Straits Settlements. At the same time there were possibilities of development that far exceeded the limits of the population of that date. So there arose the great streams of immigration, which have gone on increasing in volume with the gradual development of the Federated Malay States and the demand for labour of every kind. Although at present the British territory in this part of the world is at a much earlier stage of development than that of the Dutch island of Java, some conception of the wonderful expansion of population possible under a wise and strong administration can be gained from the history of that island. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Java was supposed to contain 3,500,000 people. To-day it contains a number not far short of 40,000,000. It is with a somewhat similar growth, and all its accompanying problems, that the British Administration in the Straits and in the Federated Malay States may have to reckon.

Among these problems education is one of the most urgent, because of the climatic and geographical conditions of the area. The control of the tropics has become a necessity for the continuance of Western civilization. Conditions prevail to-day which were quite unknown through the past ages of history. In the old days men went to the tropics for luxuries. The navy of Tarshish brought back from tropical Africa gold, ivory, apes, and peacocks. These are all commodities desired by a civilization that has an ample store of the necessities of life and desires to indulge in display. Later on in European history the tropics became the great source of the spices which tickled the palate of the European during his long course of salt meat throughout the winter months. Like the cigarette habit of to-day its cost was vastly out of proportion to its benefit. But it was a very popular trade since it yielded rich profits to the merchants, and was for many years the recognized way of making money quickly. Incidentally, it helped to revolutionize European society by enabling a new class of wealthy merchants to occupy the lands of the impoverished feudal nobility.

But to-day the great steamers that ply between the East Indies and the ports of Western Europe carry products very different from spices. Pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves are very small items in their cargoes. They rely now on freights of rubber and tin--the first a necessity of modern transport, the second a necessity for the preservation of food. They bring also copra, which is now so valuable to countries where soap is a household requirement and where margarine has to take the place of butter. They bring rice, sago, tapioca, coffee, tea, cocoa, cane sugar, and, in fact, a very large proportion of the articles of consumption that are tinned groceries. It would be difficult to exaggerate the extent to which the workers of the Western world depend upon them. It is not an exaggeration, therefore, to say that it is the control of the tropics that enables Western civilization to continue.

But this contribution made by the tropics to the needs of life in the thickly populated districts of Europe is not in itself a fact on which the obligation to education rests. There is another point of much greater importance in this particular respect. The tropical lands can never become the home of the European, for he cannot rear healthy children in a climate so different from his own. Nor can he hope to acclimatize his stock there by a succession of generations bred under tropical conditions. For the history of tropical races, so far as it is known at present, shows that the climate of perpetual summer always tends to lack of vigour and of initiative--physical, mental, and moral. As Lord Acton says in his "Lectures on Modern History", "The prodigality of nature was too much for tropical society, and it accomplished nothing of its own for the mind of man."

This is a true statement of all races who have become tropical, but there are, of course, very great variations in the influence that the climate exerts on different peoples. For there are sub-tropical races that can retain their vigour against the enervating influences of the climate for a very much longer period than the white races of Northern Europe. This is especially the case with the Chinese, to whom the development of the Malayan Archipelago, whether in Dutch or British territory, owes so much. Like the Indian they are able to labour in the heat of the tropical sun, but they come of a more vigorous stock and possess a greater share of energy.

The custom, which many of them practise, of returning to China to find wives for their sons helps to keep the stock vigorous and staves off the enervating effect of the climate. Thus very much of the hardest work of developing the country and opening up trade falls to their lot. As well as the Chinese, Indians make good immigrants, and, although less vigorous, they are very useful in many branches of labour and also in administrative work.

Now it is this fact that offers the great justification for the education of Asiatic races in Malaya. Their co-operation is a necessity for the development of lands, the products of which contain the requirements of European civilization. If it be objected that, by education, competitors are equipped to do the work of the European, it must be remembered that the supply of Europeans is utterly inadequate to the needs of these tropical lands. What the countries of Europe require, with their great industrial populations, is the adequate supply of food and raw materials at the lowest possible cost, and it is a wise economy to utilize to the utmost the services of those races who are best fitted to make the tropical lands productive. One great effect of their success is the increase of the markets for European goods, and the opportunities for an intercontinental exchange which shall bring with it mutual benefits.

But besides this economic reason for a great interest to be taken in the education of those whose help is invaluable for the development of tropical lands, there is also to-day a further reason that has a world-wide application. The time is one of great ferment in the minds of men. Everywhere the old foundations of society are being questioned, and men are endeavouring to find out a way to introduce new principles. That they should act wisely and cautiously is of the utmost consequence, and yet to expect them to do this without the help of a good education is foolish in the extreme, In dealing with the great population of cities and provinces in the Far East, the task of giving a good general education to the mass of workers lies at present outside practical politics. Tasks that have been consistently shirked in the past cannot be carried out at a moment's notice, no matter how urgent that moment may be. But, at least, what may be possible should be done without delay, and that is to give the best possible education to the few who will be the political and intellectual leaders of the next generation.

For Christians there is, indeed, a yet higher reason than either of these. Christ came to give fulness of life, and if His Gospel is to receive the welcome to which it is entitled, there must be continual effort on the part of those who proclaim it to show in what way it is capable of carrying out its promise. With the advent in the East of Western methods of business and the Western competitive system, there is only too much reason to fear that men and women will be rooted up from their old conditions of life and planted in others where there will be less liberty and less fulness, where the old means of self-expression will be impossible and the new way will lead them into a harder and narrower existence. It will be no wasted task if the Christian Church can take the lead in pointing out to the East the evils against which she has had to struggle, and still has to struggle in the West, and in so doing can emphasize to the utmost of her power the vast distinction between what is Christian and what is Western.


With the founder of Singapore education held a very important place, and it was his intention that the new town should enjoy good facilities for this purpose. But in this aim he was an exceptional administrator and his policy never received much encouragement from his successors. To a large extent education in the colony has depended on missionary societies and on individual enterprise. A certain amount of Government help was given to the schools which made English the chief study, and on many occasions Government grants have been given towards school buildings; but there has been in the past very little attempt to grapple with the problems of educating the increasing population and of training a local staff of teachers, so essential in a land to which European teachers could only come in small numbers. So long as the existing schools more or less met the demand for a fairly large output of poorly educated clerks to fill the places in Government offices and business firms, the educational system of the colony was held to be satisfactory. How poor was the standard attained became very manifest when a medical school was founded some twelve years ago, and the unhappy lecturers had in many cases to teach students who were too poorly equipped to benefit from the teaching.

It is only fair to state that much better work has been done by the Government for the Malay section of the population. The Malays being the ruling race when the British took possession, a sense of duty compelled that they should be more carefully dealt with. For them there is a regular system of elementary education, with opportunities for passing on to the secondary departments of the Government schools. There is also a Malay college somewhat on the lines of an English public school for the sons of rajahs and of leading Malays in the Federated Malay States.

For the larger part of the population, however, the work of education has fallen on voluntary schools, either missionary or otherwise. In the work of these English-teaching schools English people have taken a very small share. Much the larger part has been done by the American Wesleyan and the French Roman Catholic Missions, though one very excellent school at Penang owes its success to the support of the Chinese of that town. Besides the English schools there are a very large number of Chinese schools, in some of which a little English is taught. But these Chinese schools are not under Government inspection, nor do they earn any grant. They have developed very much in the last few years and owe a great deal to the liberality of some of the leading Chinese merchants.

It is not really difficult to account for the apathy towards education of the average Englishman. He takes so little interest in the subject in his own country, that on arrival in the East he quickly falls into the prevailing view of his fellow countrymen that the education of native races must be a mistake. In his office also he is very likely brought into touch with the product of a starved and inefficient educational system, and he condemns the whole process without considering the question as to its possible improvement. No attitude towards the problem could be more unfortunate, for there can be little doubt that in a British colony a British system of education should be paramount. National characteristics must come to the front in any educational system, and with all its many faults and deficiencies there are certain factors found in a British school which are worth planting in a country that forms part of the Empire. To leave a very large proportion of the native population of a British colony to receive so great a gift as education from foreigners may eventually lead to many difficulties. In any case it is hardly fair dealing to the splendid heritage of literature and scientific knowledge with which the past generations have endowed the English men and women of to-day.

The small share taken by English people in this voluntary work is borne almost entirely by the Anglican Church. The work is confined to a few centres. In Singapore there are two schools--one for boys, which is a diocesan institution, and one for girls, which is supported by the Zenana Mission. To-day both these schools are in need of better accommodation for their boarders. In Kuala Lumpur there is now a diocesan school for girls, which could do very good work if it were better staffed. The difficulty here lies in the fact that, being a very small school, it can only earn a small grant, and yet has not the staff to enable it to charge higher fees than the much larger girls' schools of the town. There is another girls' school at Bangkok, which has made good progress, but has, like all these schools, suffered a great deal from lack of a trained staff. At Pudu, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, an elementary school has been started within the last few years, and its strength is increasing in numbers. Lastly, in Province Wellesley, there are several poor little Mission schools, which have both inadequate buildings and staff and cannot be said to do very much good. Still they are not without hopes of some future if money and time could be devoted to them.

It is clear from this account that the present position is not a very satisfactory one. But the time is propitious for new efforts, for, on the one hand, the Government is more favourably disposed towards educational work than it has been for many years, and it is prepared to give very much more help to voluntary schools; and, on the other hand, there is a very considerable movement in the whole area for higher English education, which is finding scope for its goodwill in the foundation of Raffles College as the big memorial for the centenary, celebrated in 1919. These are both most hopeful signs. It is, however, necessary to draw the attention of Church people to one most important point. Education which is carried on by the support of the Church is always religious education. It exists in the first place only because of the opinion that the Christian revelation is a fundamental base on which to build up the education of men. But it is quite obvious that this axiom cannot be acted upon by the Government, for it collects its education rate from men of every religious denomination--Buddhists, Hindus, Parsees, Confucianists, &c. It has no right to use their money to propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It can only use it for the purposes of a secular education. When men feel that something more than this is necessary, they must show the strength of their convictions by the taxes they impose upon themselves in the shape of donations and of service towards the definitely Christian side of education. Let us thank God that this is the case. If at times it seems to act as a handicap and urgently needed schemes are long delayed, it does in the end secure that most priceless of all conditions--reality in the religious work.

The following is a list of the educational establishments for which the Church of England is responsible in the Singapore Diocese:--

Singapore.--St. Andrew's House, for boys (50 boarders). St. Mary's Home, for girls (60 boarders). These are residential hostels for children (principally Eurasian) being educated in Singapore. The girls attend the Government school, the boys St. Andrew's School. St. Andrew's School, for boys (600 day scholars, 20 boarders), teaching up to the Senior Cambridge Local Standard. This school has increased greatly both in numbers and efficiency in the course of the last few years.

C.E.Z.M. School, for girls (60 boarders, 60 day scholars). An old established boarding and day school. The girls receive a religious and practical education.

Medical Mission School (30 day scholars). A small elementary school run in connection with the Medical Mission.

Ilengwa Day School, for boys.

Kuala Lumpur.--St. Mary's School, for girls (70 day scholars). A day school, teaching up to the Junior Cambridge Local Standard. It has its own grounds and buildings, which it is hoped to extend soon for the accommodation of boarders.

Pudu Mission School (70 day scholars). An elementary day school, attended principally by Chinese boys.

Taiping.--St. Faith's School (90 day scholars). A day school for Tamil boys taught in Tamil.

Province Wellesley.--Bukit Tengah School (40 boarders, 50 day scholars). A boarding school for Tamil boys. Teaching in English. Also schools (English teaching) at Prai and Butterworth.

Bangkok.--St. Mary's Mission School (55 boarders, 70 day scholars). A boarding and day school for girls, which has grown rapidly in the last five years. A new site has just been acquired on which its own buildings can be erected for the school.

Boys' Mission School (15 boarders and some day scholars). A smaller school for boys under the same management as the girls' school.

The numbers given for the different schools are approximate, as they are, of course, liable to constant variations.

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