The Anglican Church in Borneo played a major role in bringing education even to the inaccessible parts of Sarawak
The Rev. Norman Keen, Principal of St. Thomas’s School, while presenting his 1956 annual report to the Speech Day gathering, posed the following question: “Why does our Church throughout the world maintain her schools, hang on to those threatened with extinction and persist building new ones?”
His answer is as relevant today as it has always been: “The answer is that she believes there are two supreme things in the Christian religion which no secular state can provide for. The first the formation of the character of Christ in her boys and girls. All our efforts are directed to that end. it is a long process requiring unlimited patience, and a resilience, which can recover from disappointments and setbacks. But the Church will never cease to believe that it is infinitely worthwhile, because it is the will of God. ….And the second of the two greatest things in the Christian religion is God’s promise of the Beatific Vision: that is ultimate total union with Him. Only within the fold of Christ’s Church can this hope be generated; only within the Church can this promise and its fulfillment be the guiding motive in what we do today and tomorrow and the next day”.
From the early days of the Church in this Island, the pioneers recognised the place of education in the spread of the Gospel. Now as the Church celebrates the hundred and fiftieth anniversary, we are happy to acknowledge that by the grace of God, the efforts of the Founding Fathers in the field of education have indeed been a blessing to this country. The Anglican Church in Borneo played a major role in bringing education even to the inaccessible parts of the State and thus contributed to the present high standards in this part of Malaysia and Negara Brunei Darussalam. We thank God for their vision and the sacrifices they made.
The first educational institution in Sarawak was the seed of the present St. Thomas’s School planted in 1848 by the pioneer missionary, Rev Francis McDougall (Later Bishop McDougall) and his wife Harriette McDougall (For details please see “The Kuching Anglican Schools”, Brian Taylor and Pamela Midway Heyward, 1973). The school in due course branched off into the present St. Thomas’s Secondary School, St. Mary’s Secondary School (1882), St. Mary’s Primary School (1953) and St. Thomas’s Primary School (1959).
St. Thomas’s School is among the premier educational institutions in Malaysia, with an enviable record in academic achievements as well as excellence in sports and games. It was the first school in the state to present candidates for the Cambridge Higher School Certificate Examination – the gateway to University education – and teach Science and Mathematics at that level. Currently the school teaches boys and girls up to and including pre-university levels in both Science and Arts subjects.
Extension of Teaching into the Interior Parts of Sarawak
In 1864 Bishop McDougall set up a school for the Chinese Mining community in Bau. The school did not survive long primarily because the local people migrated away. While St. Thomas’s School the ‘City School’ – prospered, it was imperative that something more and of a different nature be attempted to extend effective teaching to the villages.
Subsequently the Mission set up schools in Meradang, Kuap, Duras, Taee, Padawan, Bunuk and Lundu. The response was not very encouraging; in most cases the schools had to close down. What the children learned in those schools were not relevant to the type of community life they lived.
In the Second Divison, the Mission had a much better success rate. Chamber’s school in Banting, started in 1853, did produce some devoted catechists to serve in Saribas and Saratok. Perham’s school at Saribas won the praise of the Rajah in 1876. In the 1890’s, William Howel at Sabu, continued and improved upon the ‘jungle school’ concept that had earlier been tried in various places. “Jungle schools must needs have various aims, for the future of the pupils, both boys and girls. It is essential to bear in mind that the majority of them will return to their homes, to take up the ordinary Dayak life, and hence what a demand of such life will impose, will have to be provided for”. (William Howell, Sarawak Historical Notes, p32). He proposed a program with emphasis, in addition to religious teaching, on practical subjects: carpentry, cutting jungles and felling trees, for boys,; weaving, making mats, pounding paddy into rice, cook nicely and keep their homes tidy, for girls.
Howell’s school at Sabu later evolved to the present SMB St. Luke’s, after it was moved down to Simanggang in 1930. The Mission school at Betong was started by Linton in 1921. Initially it was only a boys’ school, named after St. Augustine. Later a girls’ school, St. Margaret’s, was built in 1922. The present SMB Augustine’s School at Betong, owes its beginnings to these two schools.
In the early 1890s, the Church started a Tamil School in Kuching for the Christian Tamils, the descendants of the Tamil labourers brought into Sarawak by the Rajah (in 1880s) to work in the estates. The numbers attending the classes gradually dwindled and the school did not survive into 1930’s.
The Northern Parts of the Diocese.
The Church helped found schools in Miri as well as in the State of Brunei, which form the parts of the Diocese farthest from Kuching.
The Anglican School in Miri, St. Columba’s School, was founded by Fr. Paul Chong En Siong in 1929. Fr. Chong who started his ministry in Kudat was transferred to Miri in 1928. He started a school in an old Government bungalow with just 13 students and remained the Principal of the school till 1935.
During his stay in Miri, Fr. Chong was also instrumental in starting St. James School in Kuala Belait – the first English Medium School in the State of Brunei. He was called on to assist Fr. Synott with the growing ministry in Kuala Belait. He used that opportunity to found the school in 1931.
Fr, Chong was also the founder of St. Andrew’s School in Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei. He was transferred there as the Parish Priest in 1955. In 1957 he started the school with 50 students ranging in ages from 3 to 14, in classes Primary one to four. The growth of the school was rapid. At present it has the reputation of being one of the best Schools in Brunei. Its alumni include the children of His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei.
The World War and Beyond.
The Second World War was a trying time for the Church. All the schools had to close down.
St. Thomas’s School and St. Mary’s School restarted in January 1946, a painful resurgence, with Mr. Kong Yu Siong taking charge of the Boys’ School and Mrs. Goh Kheng Lay organising the Girls’ School until missionary principals could arrive.
In the early days Mission Schools were ‘Independent’ schools. But in 1955 the management of the Mission Schools in Sarawak formally applied for Grant-in-Aid and became aided schools as from 1 Jan. 1956. Since the formation of Malaysia, the schools are fully aided and integrated into the National System of Education., functioning under the Federal Ministry of Education just like the government schools and schools in other parts of Malaysia.
The Church now has 48 primary and 5 secondary schools in Sarawak. In Brunei there are 3 primary and 3 secondary schools. The Brunei Schools are still “Independent” or “un-aided”. (For a full list of the schools in the Diocese please see Appendix No. 4).
The goal of education is progress, the build up of a society of increasingly higher standards – to help the society achieve greater heights. However unless the build up is on a firm foundation, as the edifice grows higher and higher there is the risk of an unstable equilibrium and the treat of a collapse of the structure.
In Sarawak, the society has progressed tremendously during the last 150 years. Our Church is happy that we have been at the forefront of education and contributed in no small measure to its progress. We are confident that our Mission of Education is founded on solid rock: Faith in God as revealed to us by His Son and guided by His Holy Spirit. We believe the Church, will in the years ahead, continue to contribute towards the build up of a society of high moral standards and integrity just as she has been doing for the past one hundred and fifty years.