Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Early education in Penang

This is an excerpt from a paper presented by Dr Geoffrey Wade of the University of Hong Kong at the Penang Story International Conference organised jointly by the Penang Heritage Trust and Star Publications at The City Bayview Hotel in Penang on 18-21 April 2002, long before George Town had been accorded UNESCO world cultural heritage status.

I'm bringing it up because Wade's presentation touched on a period when the Penang Free School was first established, and as we all know, information about the school's early years have always been rather sketchy. As the 21st of October, 2016, looms upon us today - a mere two years from now - it is most important that people like me, with a deep interest in the Penang Free School, starts collecting as much details as possible into one common source, before everything gets forgotten again.

So here it is, the excerpt from Wade's paper:
From the earliest days of the settlement at Prince of Wales Island, there would have been a demand for education for the children of the various communities. The Gazette provides useful information on some of the institutions which were established to provide instruction to the children of the island.  For the administrators and merchants, there was always the option of educating their children in Britain or in India and the Gazettes carried advertisements for such schools. We read in the issue of 9 December 1809 of the “Terms of Mrs Eliza Fay’s School at Asburnham House, Blackheath, near London” offering education for 40 guineas per annum. Those people who wanted their children closer to Penang could choose to have them educated in the Classical School in Calcutta, which advertised in the issue of 30 June, 1810. In Penang itself, well before the establishment of Penang Free School, generally understood to be the oldest school in Penang, there were a number of small “schools” established, and these are recorded within the pages of the Gazette. In April 1806, on the front page of the Gazette, under the heading “School”, Peter James Hart advertised that he had “opened a school in Old Gaol Street, for the purpose of teaching Children in Reading and Writing the English Language, and Accounts.”  In 1807, a Mr T. Cullum advised the public that he was opening an “Academy” at 28 China Street “for the instruction of Children in the English Language”.  These “schools” would have educated only small numbers of students, and the need for education facilities for the growing population is reflected in accounts found within the pages of this newspaper. 
The issue of 17 February 1816 carried an "Address to the Public in behalf of a school to be established in Prince of Wales Island'', which comprised a call by a group of residents noting their desire “That the school may be open to the reception of all children of the island, of every description, whose parents are willing to submit them to the rules of the institution.” It further noted that “It will be the first objective of the Institution to provide for the education of such children, as would otherwise be bred up in idleness and consequent vice, and without any means of obtaining instruction either in useful learning or in any manual employment, and to implant in them the early habits of Industry, Order and Good Conduct.” This heralded the beginnings of Penang Free School. The school was subsequently established and on 18 October 1817, the Gazette carried an Advertisement which noted:
The Committee entrusted with the formation and management of the Prince of Wales Island Free School, feeling desirous of now submitting to the public a report on the state of the school and of the committee’s proceedings, requests a general meeting of the subscribers at large at the School House on Wednesday next the 3rd Instant, at twelve o’clock, when the present committee proposes to resign its trust and directors will be elected for the management of the school agreeably to the regulations. 
References to the school continue throughout the issues of the Gazette.  In 1819, we read in the pages of the Gazette a tender notice seeking bids to build a schoolhouse for the Free School. Papers of 1827 indicate that the school was still seeking funds and had opened an orphanage and a boarding school. 

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