Manjit Singh: A dedicated teacher who fought for their rights

My dad started teaching in Jelebu, Negeri Sembilan, upon returning from Kirkby in around 1962. He was later transferred to Sultan Yussuf School (SYS) in Batu Gajah, Perak. Here, he led a strike seeking fair wages for teachers.

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1958
Manjit Singh (standing, extreme left) was among the lucky ones chosen for Kirkby training (1959-1960) – Photo: Courtesy of Meninder Kaur Jessy
By Meninder Kaur Jessy | Tribute | Malaysia |

My father Manjit Singh Chanan Singh was a kind and reputable man. His life took him from Taiping to Buntong, then abroad to Kirkby for teacher’s training before joining the teaching profession. Till his passing away on 18 May 2021, he played a role in the teachers’ union movement.

Born on 15 September 1939 in Taiping Perak, Manjit was the fifth child in a family of six siblings. His dad, Chanan Singh, was a train station master while his mother Pretab Kaur a home maker.

Tragedy struck early for him. I remember my dad used to tell me how excited he, his mum and his siblings were when his dad called and told them to be ready as he wanted to take them out for a movie. Going to the movies was a rare treat in those days. He was coming home by train. They waited excitedly at the Taiping station. But he never made it as he passed away in the train. My dad was only three years old that time and my grandma was expecting her youngest child, Gudi (Daljit Kaur).

The family then moved to Sungai Pari Road in Buntong, Ipoh. Growing up without a father was tough. His eldest brother, the late Sardar Swaran Singh, stopped school to take care of the family. My dad was very close to his mum and siblings (especially his brother) and was very well taken care of by them.

His studied, both at the primary and secondary level, at the Anglo Chinese School (ACS) Ipoh.

My dad was part of the famed Kirkby teachers. The story began when 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 a farm, serving as a munitions factory in the Second World War.

They sailed on S.S. Chusan for 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, the report added.

My dad was among the lucky ones chosen for the training. He was part of the Academic Group A, Batch 59/60.

He was in the Music Option during the two-year stint at Kirkby College, playing the violin. He was under the tutelage of Miss Gray. Most of us had no prior knowledge of playing the violin, cello or double bass but Manjit persevered to perform at the end of the year, according to fellow Kirkby alumni Mimi Foo.

In the summer of 1960, she said the group went for a tour to Spain and Portugal. When in Madrid, the group’s photo was published in a Madrid newspapers. Being foreign visitors from a distant country, they were treated like celebrities. At that time not many Spaniards have heard of Malaya.

Manjit Singh in Kirkby (1959-1960) – Photo: Courtesy of Meninder Kaur Jessy

Between 1952 and 1962, some 1,500 trained teachers and 405 teacher trainers graduated from the hallowed hall of MTTC, Kirkby, Liverpool, England.

My dad started teaching in Jelebu, Negeri Sembilan, upon returning from Kirkby in around 1962. He was later transferred to Sultan Yussuf School (SYS) in Batu Gajah, Perak. Founded in 1907, this was the first English school founded in Batu Gajah. Here, he led a strike seeking fair wages for teachers.

He then moved to SM Sri Intan School in Fair Park, Ipoh. In 1990, he got transferred to St Micheal School Ipoh and then to a school in Pokok Assam, Taiping, till his retirement in 1994. Since passion for teaching was in his blood, he taught on contract for four years with SM Yuk Choy in Ipoh. He spent his time teaching and educating children in English and History. He was known as a strict but dedicated teacher.

My dad was very active in the Koperasi Guru-Guru, National Union of the Teaching Profession (Peninsular Malaysia) (NUTP) till the day he passed on. He joined as a member in 1974. He was elected to the Koperasi Serbaguna NUT Berhad board in December 1987. He was then elected as the Assistant Secretary in June 2010 and had remained in this position until his passing on.

Since his appointment to the board in 1987, he had contributed immensely towards the progress of the cooperation. He was appointed to the Editorial Sub-committee and was responsible for articles in the Koperasi’s newsletters and its Annual Reports. He prided himself in the English Language. He ensured the articles were well written and ensured the tenses were in the correct places.

One of the rare photos taken in a studio in 1957. Standing (L-R): Piara Singh, Thayaji (Swaran Singh Jessy), Mindo (Mahinder Kaur Jessy). Seated, L-R: Rano (Ranjit Kaur Jessy), Manjit Singh (Dad), Tyayiji (Savaran Kaur) and Grandma (Pertab Kaur). Taken in 1957. – Photo:Courtesy of Meninder Kaur Jessy

Here are some comments from people who knew my dad.

Dato Dr Bhupinder Singh: Some who graduated from Kirkby say “even God smiled on this pioneering educational programme that had a Malayan curriculum taught in England by well-qualified staff, most of whom were graduates from such universities as London, Oxford, Cambridge and Aberdeen.” A great personality, dedicated teacher who fought for the rights of the teachers. 1967 will go down in history of SYS and nation, which saw the first Teachers strike.

Dato Loh Kim Heong: We first met in Kuala Klawang, Jelebu, Negeri Sembilan in 1962 when Manjit was posted to Sekolah Rendah Kuala Klawang. Our path crossed again when we participated actively in the teachers union as he represented Perak while I was for Negeri Sembilan. We were NUTCOOP board members till his demise.

Bahazin Yeow Harun: Our history teacher and I got a knuckle from him. I got through history for MCE. He laughed when I related to him. Education is a life long learning, that’s what he said during his speech at our reunion dinner. He was a true teacher. He teaches from his heart. In one incident, he said a student reported to him. Sir, this boy said this and that behind your back. He replied, it’s very common that people talked behind your back. What is bad is people like you who reported.

Dr Sri Shanmugam: He was our SYS BG teacher in the 60s and was the secretary of Perak chapter of National Union of Teachers.
In 1967, unfortunately, we in Form 5, had to miss so many classes due to the national teachers strike. The NUT Perak chief then was John Gurusamy. With utmost respect to our beloved teacher Mr Manjit, some of us (students) did ask him to lead or stage the strike “after school hours.” Many of us then, needed teachers help, in class to guide us thru our lessons and curriculums in view SCE. One stern look from him, was enough to melt us down with disappointment. That was that…That remained in our minds till today. Whatever, Mr Manjit sir, the teachers of today, are enjoying the perks and benefits of your team’s efforts to seek, fair wages for the efforts of many of you, even beyond normal classroom hours.

Chan Siew Hoong (Year 67 SYS): He gave me the foundation to my good English. Simple. Use plain words n short sentences

Daljit Singh Rekhraj (SYS 1967): He was one of the more outstanding teachers who taught us in SYS.  He was known by various names; man with long sleeves; Robin Hood; NUT (lead teachers on work-to-rule, the only year we missed publication of the annual school magazine).

Dato Hj Hamdan Dato Ahmad: Mr Manjit was my class teacher in Form 3, English and History…very strict but loving teacher… Wanted the best for his students.

Mrs Isabella Navaratnam: We Taught in SYS in the late 60s. He was a thinker and a man of wisdom and integrity.

Mr Khoo Hock See: A good friend, teacher and speaker. A concerned Unionist for welfare of teachers (NUTP).

Surinder Singh (my dad’s true and good friend who stayed beside him till the day he passed on): A great friend for the last 10 years. We used to meet for our weekly tea session at JUSCO, then moved to TESCO. We discussed on topics like US elections to history. He was a very knowledgeable person. We always went home happy. He would patiently put us on the right opinion.

(The author is the daughter of Manjit Singh. In September 2013, she organised the first ever Jessy reunion clan in Malaysia that was attended by over 220 family members. They are now into the seventh generation in Malaysia. Meninder is the 4th generation in Malaysia, starting with her great great-grandfather Kesar Singh who lived in Buntong in Ipoh, Perak)

 

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1 COMMENT

  1. There were a breed of Sikh teachers in those times, who were a guiding light in the teaching profession.
    Mr Manjit Singh was one of them.
    SYS school in Batu Gajah was lucky to have him.
    May God bless his soul. Waheguru.

    Old boy,SYS,1964-1974

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