Monday 9 October 2023

Free School Guide launched

I applaud my alma mater, Penang Free School, for the launch of the Free School Guide at a special School Assembly this morning. By a quirk of fate, I was unable to be present for the launch despite having prepped myself up for days and looking forward to it but my co-convenor, Lim Siang Jin, was there to save the day together with Loh Lean Kang, Andrew Lim Tatt Keong (Executive Chairman of Gama Group), Andrew Lim Chong Huat (President of The Old Frees' Association) and Hoe Kek Fei. The Guest of Honour at the launch was Mohamad Zawawi bin Ahmad, the Penang North-East District Education Officer. The Parent-Teacher Association chairman was also around.

The School Captain, Nicholas Lew, led the Headmaster and his guests
into the Pinhorn Hall at the start of the School Assembly
(Photo by Teh Yun Zhern)
With the Free School Guide (FSG) formally accepted as a fabric of Penang Free School, everyone can now learn about the school's illustrious history which goes back more than 200 years. We, that is, Siang Jin and I, had been working on the FSG for almost two years and some months ago, we trained some students to be the first batch of FSG Ambassadors. They shall be the people who will explain the Free School to visitors and show them how to scan the QR codes and open up the Free School Guide wayfinding system. 

The Headmaster and his guests took centre stage before the start
of the morning's proceedings
I also extend a big shout-out to my friend and Old Free schoolmate, Cheah Cheng Hye (Co-Chairman and Chief Investment Officer of Value Partners, Hong Kong), for his faith in us carrying this project through till its fitting conclusion. He assisted us with kind sponsorship of the wide range of collaterals which include posters, leaflets, buntings, portable display kits and other information and publicity materials.

The Headmaster, Syed Sultan bin Shaik Oothuman, regarded today as a special day. In his address to the Assembly, he said: "Today we are launching a one-of-a-kind system that would give easy access, for the first time, to the rich history and traditions of our illustrious institution. Called the Free School Guide, it is also described as a cyber museum."

The Headmaster, Syed Sultan bin Shaikh Oothuman, made an
excellent job to provide details about the Free School Guide
(Photo by Teh Yun Zhern)
Explaining the Free School Guide, he elaborated: "It is made up of two parts. First, a wayfinder that portrays our history, built heritage, traditions, people of importance and even stories. The second part comprises 10 videos on the history of the school from its founding in 1816 to the Bicentenary in 2016. The videos are based on the 352-page book, Let the Aisles Proclaim: The First Two Hundred Years of the Penang Free School (1816-2016)." 

Zawawi scanned the QR code to play the School Rally
from his mobile phone 
(Photo by Teh Yun Zhern)
He hoped to strengthen the school spirit by letting the stakeholders, especially the students, know how much the school has gone through to become what it is. "I am sure our school staff, Old Frees and the education fraternity will also find it useful and fascinating," he said, "The system will definitely underscore the uniqueness of Penang Free School and make knowledge about it far more widespread." 

The advantages of the system are many. It can be accessed at any time from anywhere through the Internet. With a hard copy like a leaflet or poster, one only need to scan the QR code. If it is a soft copy like a PDF, one just click on the headings to be taken to the Guide. 

...and the School Band marched in to continue playing the School
Rally and stirred everyone to sing 
(Photo by Teh Yun Zhern)
Moreover, its high portability means the FSG can be taken everywhere if the school needs to introduce itself to others. For example, at events and roadshows. On top of that, it is economical to reproduce and has little impact on the physical structure of the school — we don’t have to renovate any room to put the system in place.  

"The school did not spend a single cent to build the system," Syed Sultan emphasised to the assembled guests, teachers and students. "It is built and funded entirely by a group of Old Frees." 

A tribute was paid to Siang Jin for his conceptualisation and for putting everything together. 

The Headmaster also acknowledged my role in the project: "Another important contributor in terms of content is Mr Quah Seng Sun, author of the mammoth Let the Aisles Proclaim." Thank you, thank you very much. I am very happy to receive this personal recognition!  

Let us march on to fame, let the aisles proclaim 
(Photo by Teh Yun Zhern)
Moving on, the Headmaster said that both co-convenors did not want to leave the system as standalone physical additions to the walls of the school; that we wanted to make it part of the school’s living traditions. "To this end, they trained a group of student guides whose aim is to promote the system and the school. A one-day workshop was held in August to train about 15 students," he continued. "The school is committed to growing and strengthening the system. We appointed Cikgu Nur Zahidah binti Zainol to be the advisor. We also enlisted the help of our Senior Assistant, Leonard Selva."  

Certificates were awarded to the students who completed the Free
School Guide workshop 
(Photo by Teh Yun Zhern)
The final point that Syed Sultan made should serve the overall education community very well: "Finally, I hope other schools will emulate our footsteps to make information about their histories and traditions more readily available online, thus giving all Malaysians a greater appreciation of the wealth and diversity within our education system."

Siang Jin paid fitting tributes to Headmaster Syed Sultan, teacher
Nur Zahidah, Senior Assistant Leonard Selva and myself at a tea
reception after the FSG launch
FOOTNOTE: The Free School Guide is the culmination of a long process which began even before the Penang Free School Bicentenary celebrations in 2016. Its humble beginnings were the Board of Prefects' 150th anniversary celebrations the year before. From there, it snowballed to Lean Kang and Siang Jin devising the PFS Student Leadership Workshop: Developing a Pool of Talent from 2017 onwards, and a decision to produce 10 videos on the history of Penang Free School in the following year. The 10 videos were a labour of love by Siang Jin and myself, and we were ably supported by classmates from the Class of 1970/72, notably Jim Lim Teik Wah who provided the voiceovers on all 10 videos, Quah Chei Jin who sang the School Rally at the start of each video and Kumaravello Thangiah who was our film consultant. The Free School Guide, like the other projects mentioned here, is our paying back to Society and what better way is there than to contribute to our alma mater, Penang Free School, where everything began for us more than 50 years ago. Fortis atque Fidelis.

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