November 1, 2017

Sibu Tales : 7th Standard

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In the days of the White Rajahs there were several mission schools in Sarawak. Sibu had Sacred Heart School ,Yuk Ing Girls' School and Anglo Chinese School for Boys.

The English Medium schools had classes which are named Kindergarten, Primary One and Primary Two. Primary Three was known as Standard One. What is known as Primary Six today was known as STandard Four, when there was a public exam. Many could not pass that exam at age 12. The failures might repeat the year. That repeat was called Retention.

However most pupils would be too shy to repeat so they would be out of school to find work. This short cut to adulthood had advantages and disadvantages.

To be able to reach Standard Seven before the Second World War was an accomplishment. My father and his siblings in Sibu attained the standard and were sent to Shanghai for further studies! That was the lot for Sibu boys, but girls continued their studies in Singapore. A few girls from Sibu left for Xiaman and one of my friend's mother became the first Sibu Foochow girl to graduate from Xiamen university. My father and his good friend, Wong Cheng Ang graduated from Yenching University , Beijing in 1937.

On the other hand those boys who graduated from Standard 7 and did not continue their education were already considered the elite of the town. They were handpicked to work for the the government, being a rather small species of English speaking Chinese,Malays or Orang Sarawak. These became very important government officers in their later life.

Several of my relatives attained Standard 7, and especially those from wealthy families managed their own companies and became even more wealthy as rubber prices soared and export business saw great prosperity.

The Foochows in the olden days held a lot of respect for Chik Hor Seng (Standard 7 Graduates) and they were the best candidates for sons-in-law. They would be considered very "useful, capable and full of prospects".

The other category of potential good sons-in-law was the group from Chinese Middle School. Graduates from Senior Middle School were called Goh Diing Seng (Senior Middle GRaduates). They usually ended up as accountants, managers of Chinese trading houses or Chinese school teachers.

A few Chinese were able to master both Chinese and English languages. Furthermore they were able to attain both Standard 7 and Chinese Middle School certificates. When they started working, they would learn academic Malay language. This special group of Chinese young men had bright futures especially if they had good connections.

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