First Sikh women from Malaya to study overseas

Malayan Sikh Educational Board treated the Sikh students going to Kirkby to a tea party. They certainly had something to celebrate


| History | Malaya | 30 Aug 2017 | Asia Samachar |

Some Sikh teacher trainees at Kirkby in 1959: Sarabjit Kaur (seated, third from left), Manjit Singh (standing, left most) and Sukhdev Singh (standing, second from left, with turban) – Photo courtesy of Ooi-tee

A number of Sikh ladies from Malaya had ventured to studies abroad as far back as the early 1950s, years before the nation attained its independence. It was a grand and a joyful event, with one Sikh organisation throwing them a farewell tea party.

On 1 December 1951, the Malayan Sikh Educational Board threw the tea party for the first Sikh women – three of them— to leave Malaya for studies overseas. They were headed for the UK teacher training college in Kirkby, Liverpool.

“These women, with three other Sikh youths, are the successful candidates for the Kirkby Course. They will leave Malaya with the other Kirkby scholarship winners early this month,” reported The Singapore Free Press (First Sikh women for overseas study, 1 December 1951).

The report did not mention their names.

Scanning the pages of newspaper achieves, Asia Samachar found a The Straits Times report in 1952 carrying a photo of another Sikh lady about to make her way to the UK-based teacher training centre.

“Miss Patwinder Kaur, aged 18, a teacher at the Malacca Sacred Heart Convent has been chosen for the Kirkby training course,” says the report (The Straits Times, 2 August 1952).

The first group of 148 students from Malaya were sent in the winter of 1951 to train at the emergency teacher-training college in the tiny hamlet about six miles from the city of Liverpool, called Kirkby Fields. The place was literally farm followed by farm, serving as a munitions factory in the Second World War.

They sailed on S.S. Chusan on a 21-day journey, according to a New Straits Times report. The later batches would go on flights that would break journey in cities like Bangkok, Calcutta, Karachi and Rome before reaching London.

The selection for the two-year training course at Kirkby looked for able candidates, with the potential for a degree course, who would on their return serve as teachers in the Education Department for at least five years, it added.

Know any of them? If you do, do tell.

Karachi Stopover before Kirkby in 1959: Standing, L to R-Manasseh, Ramakrishnan, Tan Ooi Tee, Balwant Singh Kneeling- Cheng Swee, Ajit Singh Photo courtesy of Ooi-tee


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  1. My late wife’s Masi, Prof. Dr (Mrs) Jasbir Sarjit Singh retired from the Education Faculty of University of Malaya., was trained at Kirby around 1959. The late Santa Singh of Bentong, Pahang was also there around that time.