In remembering the Methodist school movement in Singapore and Malaya, we are reminded that it followed the example of John Wesley who founded Kingswood School in 1748 to join “knowledge and vital piety” in young people as a stewardship of talent. The more than 70 Primary and Secondary Methodist Schools in Peninsular Malaysia, and the 14 in Singapore are a testimony to those principles.
WE HIGHLIGHT Ipoh Anglo-Chinese School (ACS), one of the most illustrious of Malaysian schools founded in 1895 by the Rev William E. Horley in a small rented attap house with just four boys.
A few months later, he acquired four acres of jungle land from the Government on which the School would grow and flourish. Here he built a School-Church, having begged money from the local community. When completed it was used as a School on week days and Church on Sundays.
Keeping pace with the development and growth of Ipoh town, the enrolment steadily increased, and in 1900 reached 200; in 1907 it had grown to 550. The Boarding School which had been built in 1901 was annexed to accommodate the overflow of students.
In 1915, the Rev Horley received a Government grant of $25,000 and another $68,000 from the public with which he put up the Main Building facing Lahat Road, then with an enrolment of 729 and 21 teachers that reflected the growing importance of Ipoh in the tin-mining industry. At the same time, the Junior Cambridge class was organised co-educationally under a new missionary, Mr Lester Proebstel.
The reputation of the School received a significant boost when T.W. Hinch was appointed Principal in 1915. The ACS became “a model of discipline and organisation” – with gymnastics under a trained instructor, a Cadet Corps, a crack football team, and the re-organisation of Sports Day and Games into Divisions.
As Cambridge class teacher, Mr Proebstel produced very good results. He was also responsible for starting a unique tradition of an annual Shakespeare play, the first being “Julius Caesar”, initially following the set text for the Senior Cambridge literature paper. Other plays followed – the Tempest, the Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Richard II, Othello, As You Like It and Henry V – these were the stuff which helped the School to understand Shakespeare as a dramatist and not a dull and bookish drudgery.
Many of the players who “strutted and fretted their hour upon the stage” are now heard no more, but their performance must have brought tears and laughter to thousands and given them a better appreciation of Shakespeare and a clearer insight into life.
Mr Proebstel became Principal in 1926 and headed one of the most outstanding periods of the School because of his energy, indomitable spirit and clear vision that made Ipoh ACS one of the leading educational institutions in Malaya. He was followed by Mr Percy B. Bell in 1934, remembered for building a massive Science Block, the first in Perak state, a carpentry workshop, five classrooms and Teachers’ Room.
Though the School suffered serious damage during the Japanese Occupation, buildings and playing fields were rehabilitated under the first Asian Principals, Mr Aw Boon Jin and Mr Ho Seng Ong, who were followed by the Rev Ralph Kesselring from 1948 to 1957.
The Rev Kesselring is remembered for the huge development and expansion of the School and Boarding School, now known as Horley Hall. In addition, he was responsible for two major building projects that included classrooms, a science laboratory and a new library that represented a major advance in educational facilities to cope with the increased enrolment of nearly 1,700 in both the Primary and Secondary Schools.
Under Mr Teerath Ram, who followed the Rev Kesselring, school extension costing over half a million dollars was undertaken. The stage and hall were enlarged, the library was air-condtioned to make it one of the country’s best, a swimming pool and recreation centre were completed and the hostel enlarged to accept 86 students.
Over the years many hundreds of pupils passed through its portals and distinguished themselves by serving society, including a number of Ipoh ACSians who came to Singapore and made their contributions.
Among them were Mr Khaw Kai Boh, who was Director, Special Branch and Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police; Dr Toh Chin Chye, who was a founder member of the People’s Action Party (PAP) and Deputy Prime Minister; Mr Lee Hah Ing, who was appointed Principal of ACS Singapore from 1961 to 1969; and Professor Wang Gungwu, well-known historian and academic who retired recently as the Executive Director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore. – Adapted from Ho Seng Ong’s Methodist Schools in Malaysia. 1963. pp 517-527.
Mr Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.