Bring back the Brinsford-Kirby English teachers
by Azly Rahman
I had the opportunity to work with many of them when I was teaching at a Malaysian university a decade or so ago. Some became a central influence in my life as an educator. The Brinsford-Kirby teachers are amongst the finest English teachers the Malaysia produced in preparation for Independence. This group of gifted teachers are well-versed in the Grammar and Mechanics and Literature of the English Language. They are, most importantly too, multicultural and enjoy each others’ company -- like brothers and sisters.
Their commitment to teaching the poor and the underprivileged of the newly emerging Malaysia is admirable; teaching became their calling. They take pride in their profession; like how they were trained at the two best British teacher-training institutions. Many of them have passed away, some of the pioneers of Brinsford-Kirby are in their eighties. I hope they are reading this piece and giving advice on the importance of the English Language and the need for the different races to live together and to learn from each other.
Had our prime ministers come from the like of Kirby-Brinsford teachers, we will have a different Malaysia – we will have a population well-versed in English, proud of all the languages including Bahasa Melayu, meticulous and stylish the James Cagney and Katherine Hepburn way, cultured, imbued with wisdom, and most importantly imbued with a no-nonsense kind of nationalism that will nowhere be near any slogan of OneMalaysia we are now hearing. You could enjoy the music of Matt Monroe, Nana Mouskouri, and Frank Sinatra with them. You could also sit and watch Gone with the Wind and enjoy nasi kandar the next hour.
You could sit with them for hours and discuss English grammar, talk about Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights, Middelmarch, Pride and Prejudice, Shakespeare, and literary work of the different time periods of the English Language. And next, you could adjourn for teh tarik and listen to their advice on how to see the world as a gift and enjoy their wit and their jokes as well. The Malays, Chinese, Indians, and Sikhs amongst them are like brothers and sisters.
They are the earliest example of true Malaysians that strive for a Malaysian Malaysia. They are strict disciplinarians to their children and instill deep sense of pride of their culture to the latter. Undoubtedly, coming from poor families themselves, they instill the importance of academics and for the love of learning in their children and grandchildren. Poverty is no reason for the loss of pride and dignity. Being poor does not mean leaving your child to roam around playing truant and giving reasons for the school to practice "social promotion" just because you are of this or that racial group. Many became respected members of their communities, giving back what they cherish most -- their experience as members of the Brinsford-Kirby class and their passion for teaching.
Okay -- maybe we can't brink them back, Nor is Kirby any longer there. But we can learn from that time period when English used to be taught well to Malaysians, according to demands of those times.
One has to read the publications such as "Suara Brinsford" to analyze the nature of nationalism and teaching in those early years of Merdeka.
May God bless them all.