Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Elementary Malay Vernacular Schools and School Libraries in Singapore under British Colonial Rule, 1819-1941

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Elementary Malay Vernacular Schools and School Libraries in Singapore under British Colonial Rule, 1819-1941

Article excerpt

Earlier research on school libraries in Singapore has stated that school libraries were established there recently. Lim (1970) wrote that school libraries in Singapore were largely a post-war innovation, and Ho (1998) wrote that published records related to the history of school libraries in Singapore were available only from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. This article presents historical information that shows that an official policy on school libraries was initiated in 1899. It also presents the historical record of the development of schools and school libraries under British colonial rule and related information about the Malay school book production.


Singapore is a diamond-shaped island located at the southernmost tip of the Malaysian Peninsula. The island measures 42 km from west to east and 23 km from north to south. Its land area of 606.7 km2 is about 38% of London's 1,580 km2 or about the size of Greater Boston. To understand the beginning and development of Malay school libraries, we need to know the history of Singapore since its founding in 1819 and how schooling among the immigrant communities began, evolved, and developed in the colonial port city.

When Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819, "the population consisted of about 150 fisherman and pirates of whom about 30 were Chinese" (Newbold, 1839, p. 279). The immigrant communities to Singapore were from China, India, and the Netherlands East Indies. One feature of the population of Singapore that stands out clearly is the multiracial character of the people, which was observed even in the early days of the island's history. From 1871 to 1931, the Malays formed the largest minority ethnic group. The percentage distribution has, however, undergone radical changes over the years as shown in Table 1) where Malays includes both Malays and Indonesian immigrants and Indians includes both Indians and Pakistanis. Singapore has never had a native population in the true sense of the word because the three main groups (Malays, Chinese, and Indians) came to the island as immigrants (Saw, 1969).

Singapore Under British Colonial Rule, 1819-1941

To understand how Malay schools and school libraries were established, developed, and evolved since the founding of Singapore and before World War II, it is necessary to examine the four distinct periods of colonial rule.

1. Singapore under Bencoolen, 1819-1823, and Fort William, 1823-1825.

2. Singapore's amalgamation into the Straits Settlements under the East India Company (EIC), and later British India, 1826-1867.

3. The Straits Settlements under the Colonial Office in London, 1867-1895.

4. The formation of British Malaya consisting of the Straits Settlements, Federated Malay States, and Unfederated Malay States, 1895-1942.

Singapore Under Bencoolen, 1819-1823, and Fort William, 1823-1825

After Raffles founded Singapore, he appointed Farquhar as the First British Resident (1819-1823) and supervised his administration fitfully from his post of Bencoolen in West Sumatra (Chew, 1991). In June 1823, Raffles left Singapore for the last time and made it a dependency of the Supreme Government of Calcutta. On June 24,1824 Singapore and Malacca were effectively transferred to the EIC by the British Parliament, and both territories became subordinate to Fort William in India (Tan, 1999). Education was recognized by Raffles as one of the first needs of his new settlement (Neilson, n.d.). In 1819 Raffles (1991a) wrote in his first policies on education,

1. To educate the sons of higher order of natives and others;

2. To afford the means of instruction in the native languages to such of the Company's servants and others as may desire it;

3. To collect the scattered literature and traditions of the country with whatever may illustrate their laws and customs and to publish and circulate in a correct form the most important of these, with such other works as may be calculated to raise the character of the institution and to be useful or instructive to the people, (p. …

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