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KIRKBYITES' PASSION: Setting up of Kirkby International College in Cyberjaya is representative of the generation of teacher-patriots
GREAT leaders in institutions conduct their core business and inspire those in their spheres and beyond, not through control but through vision and inspiration.
These are the people who understand Fyodor Dostoyevsky's observation that "Neither man, nor nation can exist without a sublime idea". O. T. Dussek, the principal of Malacca, and then, Sultan Idris Teacher's College had in 1935 urged his students to develop themselves by creating awareness of their historic roles.
The two great institutions established in Britain to train Malaysian teachers before and in the early years of Merdeka were the Kirkby Teachers' College in Liverpool for primary school teachers and the Brinsford Teachers College for secondary school teachers.
The unifying cry of nationalists is that "language is the soul of the nation". The cry of another group of patriots is that "knowledge is the soul of the nation".
Scholar-teachers are patriots who uphold the wisdom that "language and knowledge are the souls of the nation" and create knowledge leaders for all fields of enterprise.
Like O. T. Dussek in Malaya, in Britain, many of the teachers from Kirkby and Brinsford inspired Malaysians to master knowledge and be as good as any thought leaders and professionals in the world. A roll of honour of educational leaders emerged from Kirkby and Brinsford.
These early educators were bilinguals, strong in English and Malay. They were multicultural, multidisciplinary and well prepared for the future. They were also global in their thinking and local and national in their mission.
Most of the early pioneer scholar-teacher patriots have contributed enormously towards the development of Malaysia through educational institutions and the education system. They have been awarded recognition of excellence of various kinds, including the highest awards of Tokoh Guru and Tokoh Kepimpinan Pendidikan.
From Brinsford were people like former director-general of education Tan Sri Wan Zahid Noordin, Professor Datuk Hussein Ahmad (an academic, educational planner, as well as Tokoh Guru), Jumaat Mohd Noor (an exemplary leader) and a host of others.
From Kirkby were teachers such as Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Hajah Haminah, Raja Permaisuri Perak Tuanku Bainun, now chancellor of the Sultan Idris Education University and Tan Sri Yahaya Ibrahim and Aziz Sultan of teacher education fame, prolific writer and novelist Dr Shaari Isa, Leela Unithan, Othman Dahlan and Baharuddin Marji.
Tan Sri Yahaya Ibrahim is representative of the generation of teacher patriots who contributed from pre-Merdeka days until today. He inspires the younger generation by the force of his ideas, his stamina, will and determination, wit and humour. He upholds the principle not just of lifelong learning but of lifelong contribution.
Most of the Kirkbyites (and Brinsfordians) are in their late 70s and 80s. This is a piece of a significant historical heritage which has to be preserved and the best examples from the past brought to the future.
It is to the credit of the passion of these teachers that they garnered support from political, professional, educational and civil service leaders to found the Kirkby International College (KIC) in Cyberjaya, launched by the deputy prime minister, who is also education minister.
They also compiled a book Kirkby College: A heritage. The Kirkbyites established a public library at KIC and alumni donated their personal collections of books. It is expected that the Brinsford College Alumni will also make similar strategic decisions and initiatives.
Educational institutions, an educational system or the education profession is not a stand-alone phenomenon but exists in the sweep of national and world history. Kirkby and Brinsford are our links with Britain and the Greco-Roman Christian civilisation, just as Al-Azhar is our link with the Islamic-Arab tradition and Chinese schools are our links with Chinese civilisation and diaspora.
Malaysian teachers need to understand such links as origins of the educational system, and pondok schools are our links with indigenous education. It has been said that "Those who do not know their past are not worthy of their future".
Teachers and college students must understand all these various links, and intellectually be proud that they belong to a long, rich tradition, which is at once universal and indigenous.
It is necessary that the curriculum of teacher education and the general history curriculum include the history of these institutions and its various leaders as exemplars of those who continue to be selfless, open, caring and significantly contributive even into their later years.