One of the truly rare individuals in Kedah’s history, a man of character with a personality of his own, was my eldest brother, Tunku Ibrahim, who became the Regent of the State when my father, the late Sultan, having suffered a stroke, became paralysed from head to foot.” This is the opening paragraph of an article entitled “Kedah’s Wise Regent: Bringing Up State Under Colonial Rule” written by Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Tunku Ibrahim was the regent of Kedah from 1912 to 1934 and was instrumental in developing and modernising the “Rice Bowl of Malaysia”, which prospered under him.
Though his education was in Malay written in Jawi, Tunku Ibrahim was truly visionary in the way he ruled the state. He established the first government English school (GES) in Alor Star because he wanted to improve the standard of administration in the state. The GES, which was first housed in a wooden building in Jalan Kanchut, Alor Star, later became the Sultan Abdul Hamid College. Its first headmaster was Mohamad Iskandar, the father of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Tunku Ibrahim played a big role in laying Tunku Abdul Rahman’s stepping stone to the future. It was his education policy and encouragement that enabled Tunku Abdul Rahman to pursue his education in England. Many others too benefited from this farsighted development plan for the state. The children of civil servants and Kedah’s aristocrats obtained higher qualifications, thus improving their chances to get high calibre jobs that required such credentials. Even though the administration of the state was conducted in Malay, entry into the civil service required English, thus ensuring its quality.
Tunku Ibrahim maintained a close relationship with his brothers and his wisdom had a great impact on Tunku Abdul Rahman.
The Kedah ruler believed strongly that education should continue to be in English, making full use of the knowledge acquired and applying it to our own language to benefit the people and the nation.
According to last year’s World Economic Forum on learning languages, cultural competence is key to thriving in a world that is becoming increasingly globalised. Cultural competence opens people’s eyes to a way of doing things that is different from their own. Knowing a different language also increases one’s tolerance level.
Without prejudice or intention to devalue our own language, the language of knowledge is still English for us Malaysians in order to gain access to top-level and high-paying jobs. English is also essential for cultural competence and to have a high tolerance level for those who are different from us.
If we look at those of us who are categorised as leading a better life, we will notice that they are more tolerant and culturally competent, and able to converse well in English. For Malaysians who do not have such a lifestyle, proficiency in English will certainly improve their prospects.
In the 1930s, the Kedah and other royalties, ministers, top-level government servants and those who could afford it chose top universities in the Western world for a quality tertiary education conducted in English. But there is no longer such a class divide between the aristocrats and ordinary rakyat today. Now, everyone has the opportunity to obtain high quality education in English. This was Tunku Abdul Rahman’s intention and he stood firm on the direction of education in this country.
His article on Kedah’s wise regent was written on Dec 1, 1975, a few months after Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah acceded to the throne as the fifth Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
In loving memory of Almarhum Paduka Ayahanda Tuanku Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah. May Allah place you among the syuhada. Al Fatihah.
Tunku Munawirah Putra is honorary secretary of the Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia