Monday, December 15, 2008



Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor Diana Burton,
Liverpool John Moores University

Paper presented at the Kirkby College Grand Reunion,
INTAN Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 29, 2008


It would not have been possible to produce this presentation and paper without the excellent inputs of my superb colleagues, Karen Davies, Tricia McMillan, John Morrison, Paul Davies and Mark Brundrett.


I am delighted to have the opportunity to address this august gathering on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor who sends his very best wishes. LJMU is proud to be associated with a number of successful educational institutions in Malaysia. Through our collaborations, students and staff from both our nations continue to enjoy mutual benefits which impact ultimately on the social and economic progress of our communities just as your own work, as Kirkby College alumni, has done.

Historical forms of analysis and the pursuit of principles or 'tendencies' to advance our understanding of contemporary education have long been recognised to have value, so Kirkby College provides a good case study.

The US researcher, Arnove (1999), noted nearly a decade ago that comparative and international education is enjoying a renaissance as a result of globalisation. Arnove went on to comment that this is especially notable throughout Asia and beyond the English-speaking world where population growth and regrouping have been exponential.

Many of the challenges currently faced within education institutions internationally derive from rapidly changing external factors. Changes in global, geo-political relations and in contemporary intellectual agendas are particularly significant.

Before we grapple with any of that, however, I want to first remind you of where and how the college started, including showing some photographs which will I’m sure be familiar to you.

Kirkby College: Foundation & History

Malaya had emerged from the Second World War with an acute shortage of trained teachers so the UK Ministry of Education placed Kirkby College at the disposal of the Malayan Government.

The Malayan Government embarked on a unique and historic move to establish a teacher training college in Britain. With the assistance of the British Government, Malaysia took over Kirkby College which was previously a facility to train British teachers.

Pioneer principal of the college Robert Williams said:

“By any standard, it was a unique move in the history of education. Never before had any government in the world set up its own college in Britain.”

Kirkby College was the first of its kind at that time. Although the University of Liverpool's Institute of Education undertook the task of formulating the curriculum for Kirkby College and the examination of its students to ensure that the professional standards of the college were kept, the Malaysian college was free to mould the curriculum to fit its educational landscape.

The first wave of pioneer students arrived at Kirkby, near Liverpool, in January 2nd 1952 after a three week sea journey of 8,000 miles. The second intake travelled by refurbished military cargo plane, arrived on September 1952. The former Queen of Malaysia, HRH Tuanku Bainun, was one of the second intake students to study at Kirkby Teacher Training College between 1952 and 1954.

The Queen has commented that:

“Kirkbyites can be proud that they have played a significant role in the development of teacher education in Malaya. They have contributed, and are still contributing, to the progress of the nation.” - Her Royal Highness Tuanku Bainun

In 1992, HRH Tuanku Bainun, became the first Queen of the Malaysian Royal Family to receive a British academic award when Professor Peter Toyne, then Vice Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, conferred an Honorary Fellowship on Her Majesty in Kuala Lumpur. It was also an historic moment for Malaysia as LJMU became the first British university to transfer the classical academic ceremony to the tropics.

A total of 149 students arrived at “Kampong Kirkby” in January 1952. The college subsequently enrolled 150 students each year until 1962. From 1952 to 1962, 1,500 teachers received their training for Malaysian schools at Kirkby, in addition to 405 teacher trainers.

Students who studied at Kirkby College said that the teacher training centre had taught its graduates more than how to become qualified teachers. For example, Kirkbyites mixed with local teachers and students and learned about the local culture. Locals became like family for the Kirkbyites with regular invitations to their homes for dinner. In return, the teacher trainees introduced Malaysian culture to Kirkby residents through plays and performances held at the college.

This rich interplay of cultures reflects a long tradition of multi-culturalism within the port city of Liverpool, which is a melting pot of different ethnic groups. The legacy of Kirkby College is strong, with relationships and mutual learning forged at the time creating powerful links between Liverpool and Malaysia, which endure today.

Several studies (Yeung, 2006; Banks, 2004; Nieto, 2004; Sleeter & Grant, 2003) have recognised that a student's academic achievement is influenced by the teacher's cultural awareness. For students to achieve academically, it is important that teachers have high levels of cultural understanding and feel confident working in culturally diverse classrooms.
As trainee teachers in Kirkby, you must all have felt the shock of the new as you met with different cultural norms and reference points. In turn, your contribution to an enriched cultural experience for your English pupils was unprecedented and highly prized by Liverpool City Education Authority.

Over the years, we have witnessed global tragedies - wars and natural disasters - which have led to a significant increase in the number of migrants with refugee status being admitted to countries across the world. Thus, for teachers in any large city, global population shifts have resulted in local school communities with a rich mix of cultural and linguistic diversity.
Clearly, you must have experienced similar challenges both in the UK and on your return here, given the societal and ethnic mix of your nation. Indeed, history shows that the cross-cultural experience of Malaysian students who attended Kirkby College led to positive attitudes and high expectations of all who participated in this unique venture. It had a direct effect on student learning for many years to come in Malaysia and contributed significantly to the preparation of young people to function within a diverse and global society.
The Role and Impact of Kirkby-trained Teachers

Besides improving your knowledge and honing your pedagogical skills, as Kirkbyites, you learned to view the world from a wider perspective. You left a lasting legacy of good manners and friendship with tutors and, of course, the schools where you taught. You were excellent diplomats for Malaysia and returned as high commissioners for the good of the land. Your pivotal role in supporting and promoting Malaysia as a developing nation has led to fundamental change and growth, which reaches well beyond the confines of the classroom into society, politics and business.

Your seminal influence on the educational approaches subsequently adopted in Malaysia started as soon as you began teaching. You gave pupils the opportunity to develop their minds by encouraging them to seek out new ideas and critically appraise issues, as opposed to merely regurgitating facts pumped into them. You became models for the students in dress, manners and cultivation of the mind, and you fired their imaginations to do better and better for the greater good of the nation.


As teachers you were part of the very significant shifts in your country during the drive for universal primary and secondary education. You will have played a key role in ensuring financial resources were allocated to building new schools and to training new teachers.

Reform in the early 1990s, which further extended the basic education from 9 years to 11 years, created a structure that provided for mass education. The democratisation of secondary education resulted in increasing demand for tertiary education which brought about a rapid growth of higher education which in turn increased the number of universities.

The pursuit by the Malaysian government of educational policies, aimed at providing equal educational opportunities to economically disadvantaged groups and those from a broad range of social and culturally diverse backgrounds, has provided an important template for other nations to emulate.

The government acknowledges that its approach to Special Educational Needs (SEN) is an area for further development. At a recent international conference in Kuala Lumpur, ministers highlighted that there is now a financial and political commitment to raising awareness and providing support across a wide range of SEN in Malaysian schools. This provides opportunities for collaboration with experts from LJMU and other universities so that we can learn from each other in improving this vital provision.

Teacher Education … Now

The Malaysian Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Education recently stated that Information Literacy is a survival skill and forms the basis for lifelong learning. As such, the Ministry of Education recognises the importance of teacher-pupil relationships and the need to focus on improving teacher education programmes and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers.

Your Ministry clearly has this right because very recent research by Australian researcher, John Hattie (2008), assessed a huge range of research studies (50,000 studies involving 80 million pupils) and came to the rather obvious conclusion that improving interaction between teachers and pupils is the most significant factor in improving achievement.

Datuk Dr Subramaniam, Minister for Human Resources, stated that historically, your education system is based on the English system (as opposed to the American system reflected within Thailand). Consequently there are many similarities with respect to the curriculum. Kirkby College graduates were, of course, in the vanguard of establishing these similarities, and the tradition of Malaysia seeking Higher Education qualifications/awards in the UK is now very well established.

The Minister made the following points in that speech, many of which reflect concerns that we in the UK share. He said that:

· Increasing graduate employability is a key need.

· Employability in general is also an issue. To increase students’ attractiveness to employers many courses are now moving away from institution only training in Malaysia, with the government actively encouraging and funding work-based learning. As teacher trainees, of course, this work-based learning was a very big part of your training. In keeping with your nation’s goals, our university has developed its own unique programme of WBL skills, which are assessed and certificated via criteria set and monitored by Chief Executives from high level, multi-national companies.

· Thirdly, the Minister noted that life-long learning is actively promoted, with your government legislating for compulsory training in some key industries and sectors where traditionally there has been a record of limited training. There is thus a real commitment, at the very highest levels of political and educational endeavour, to a culture of self-improvement and Life Long Learning.

Changes in Education Approach

As the minister noted, there are indeed many similarities between the UK and Malaysian education systems. The liberalisation and decentralisation of the Malaysian education system is aimed at school improvement and effectiveness which has much in common with UK developments.

However, a dynamic economy which is well suited to modern conditions requires workers who are not only technically knowledgeable and well trained but who also possess the capacity for creative independent thought and action. So, as technology is constantly changing and ‘digital natives’ inhabit our schools and universities, usually outsmarting their teachers’ technological skills, education is increasingly viewed as lifelong learning wherein learning how to learn (skill and application) becomes more important than what is learned (theories).

Smart Partnership in Education

Your government recognises the value of developing links with overseas higher education providers to offer twinning programmes in collaboration with the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other countries. This provides students with the opportunity to complete their studies within a foreign country but also perpetuates what Kirkby College students started in the 50s, i.e. the sharing of experiences, knowledge and cultures between young people who will, in turn, play key roles in societies and economies across the globe.

Globalisation has accelerated this need to learn about each other and UK universities are increasingly developing internationalisation strategies to develop students’ wider perspectives. Your contribution as a nation to extending the vision of Western students is fundamentally important and we must all strive to ensure that there is a two-way traffic of students between the East and the West.

Higher Education Links

The strong links between Merseyside and Malaysia established in the 1950s through Kirkby College have been built upon by a number of institutions. LJMU, for instance, has developed a 10 year-old link with the highly successful TAR College and Institute Megatech which provides a summer school top-up that enables students to complete a UK degree. This year over 500 students undertook this programme.

We now manage a range of LJMU-accredited courses in Malaysia and have established collaborative teaching and research links with China, Singapore and Thailand using Malaysia as our base. LJMU is so committed to developing inter-cultural relationships with Asia that it recently opened an office in the heart of KL and appointed a Regional Director, Jeffery Soong, to enable us to strengthen existing connections and business with Malaysia and to consolidate our reputation across the region and globally.

Vision 2020

In ‘Towards achieving Vision 2020’, your government has identified strategies to meet the following nine challenges:

Establishing a united Malaysian nation with a sense of common and shared destiny
Creating a psychologically liberated, secure and developed Malaysian society
Fostering a democratic society
Establishing a fully moral and ethical society
Establishing a mature, liberal and tolerant society
Establishing a scientific and progressive society
Establishing a fully caring society and a caring culture
Ensuring an economically just society
Establishing a prosperous society

(Dr Mahathir Mohamad, 1991, pp. 2–4)

Malaysian Higher Education’s strategic aim is to double the number of foreign students (from 50,000 to 100,000) by 2010. In common with the UK, employability skills and a commitment to lifelong learning are seen as essential to the progress of educating and up-skilling the work force in Malaysia.

Many countries share such goals globally and education will play a vital role in helping all countries to meet these challenges.

To realise Vision 2020, Malaysia has recognised that it needs active learners who have acquired the skills of problem-solving, independent thinking and autonomous learning as well as the abilities to work co-operatively. Schools need to emphasise different kinds of teaching and learning strategies such as co-operative learning, group work and other learner-directed modes of operation. School performance indicators should be broadened to include management of a whole host of social outcomes such as better attendance and behaviour, improved self-image and more positive attitudes to school.

These issues and goals are as keenly felt in the UK as in your country so there are real opportunities to learn from each other. It is evident that the educational contribution made to the Malaysian nation by the Kirkby College teachers has been pivotal in the development of the Malaysian educational system.

LJMU is committed to intercultural collaboration and is very much looking forward to continuing its long-standing relationship with Malaysia. Our teaching is informed by research undertaken by leading scholars and we believe that effective education is achieved when students are supported by excellent practitioners (teachers) who recognise the needs of their communities and the places they live.

Hall et al (2006) noted that ‘place’ in this local, lived sense is something much more than landscape – the material topography of a piece of land (Cresswell, 2004: 11); it is a hybrid product of biography and location(s), the one informing the other in a constant round of influence and interpretation. It is an animate geography; and living things do not stand still, they move. This is as true of places as it is of persons.

Place, as lived geography, moves and changes; the process is continual, but we recognise moments at which it intensifies and accelerates. The inception of Kirkby College is an example of one such intensification.

Changes in Liverpool and KL

Both Liverpool and Kuala Lumpur have been physically transformed in the course of recent development and regeneration activity. Liverpool city’s docks have been made over as a centre for commerce, leisure and tourism and branded The Albert Dock. The city centre has been similarly refashioned and is currently undergoing a further round of rebuilding and retail development. Liverpool is generally agreed to be a thriving as a result of this investment which has itself been driven partly by the European Capital of Culture status that we currently enjoy.

Similar developments can be seen in Malaysia’s major cities but in both our countries the effects of this regeneration have not reached into all communities. Whilst both Kuala Lumpur and Liverpool are cities of ambition and growth, we are all grappling with inequalities that characterise most major global cities, wherever they are. Education is as key to tackling these now as it was when you attended Kirkby College.

Thomas and Kearney (2008) note that, in a globalised society, people travel on a scale not previously experienced which has resulted in greater cultural diversity becoming a feature of all institutions, including of student populations in classrooms. However, while schools are culturally, socially and linguistically diverse, populations of teachers are characteristically white, middle class and monolingual (House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Vocational Education, 2007). As a consequence they are likely to teach children whose cultural background and life experiences are very different from their own.

One of the major challenges facing teacher education today, therefore, is preparing teachers with the knowledge, skills and disposition to work successfully with this increasingly diverse pupil population. To obviate this problem in the UK, a government initiative has been developed to encourage the recruitment and retention of students from Black, Minority & Ethnic (BME) cultural backgrounds, but it is a significant challenge and we would value any advice you can give us on this. A retired colleague, Geoff Fenwick, told me that former students have readily given advice and assistance in the past.

Some of you might remember Norman Garner who lectured in Education at the college. Norman was familiar with what was then Malaya because he had completed a spell of military service there before he became a teacher. The thesis for his M.Ed degree was on the subject of Education in that country (Malaya) and he was indebted to his students and former students for some of his information and data.

Another lecturer who might be remembered was Alec Walters who was a mathematician. In 1967 Alec Walters became the Principal of the Ethel Wormald College of Education in Liverpool, a college for mature students. He appointed Norman Garner as his Head of Education and together they created a course in Comparative Education - unusual at that time - as part of the Teaching Certificate qualification. Malaya was included and again, they were helped by their ex-students, many of whom had by then begun to make their mark in their country’s education. Both kept in contact with some of their former students, some of whom visited the college on an informal basis.

Norman Garner, who made an outstanding contribution in the field of Community Education, died at the early age of 47. Alec Walters retired when the college was amalgamated with another college in Liverpool and died at the age of 68.

The Malayan Teacher Training College or Kirkby College became Kirkby Fields College of Education which was amalgamated with Nene College of Education in Northampton in 1973 after which links with Malaysia probably became tenuous.


In conclusion, then, given the strong educational alliances between our two countries and the mutual benefits that spring from close collaboration in higher education, I am confident that the pioneering spirit of Kirkby College graduates is alive and well today in Malaysia and is set to go from strength to strength.

Before I finish I thought you might be interested in some of the headlines that are currently in the UK educational press. Their diversity tells a story all of its own, in the sense that teachers have so many issues to deal with. More concerning perhaps is the fact that we are still wrestling with many old problems to which you and I probably felt we had found the answers when we were all teaching children many years ago - but then, they do say, history has a habit of repeating itself!

Pupil voice to become law - Government plans to insist schools consult pupils on everything from uniform to curriculum and homework

Exclusions send children into a void - Clampdown on bad behaviour reveals a fault line: parents who can’t or won’t supervise suspended pupils

Rich and poor gap has failed to narrow - More than 20,000 pupils are doing GCSEs in schools that are still causing concern, Ofsted’s state-of-the-nation annual review warns

Personalised learning is here to stay but does anyone know what it means?

Too much dull teaching not challenging pupils

Christine Gilbert, Chief HMI, Ofsted Annual Review

I wish you all well for the reunion and look forward to meeting some of you to hear your fascinating memories.


Arnove, R.F. (1999) Reframing comparative education. The dialectic of the global and the local, in: R.F. Arnove & C.A. Torres (Eds) Comparative Education. The dialectic of the global and the local. Lanham, Rowman &

Banks, J.A. (2004) Multicultural education – historical development, dimensions, and practices. In J.A. Banks, & C.A.M. Banks (Eds.), Multicultural education – historical development, dimensions, and practices (pp. 3–24). San Fransisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

Cresswell, T. (2004) Place: A Short Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell.

Hall, T, Brett, L. & Coffey, A. Stories as Sorties, Qualitative Researcher, Issue 3, Economic & Social Research Council, 1-4.

Hattie, J. (2008) Visible Learning: a synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses relating to achievement, Routledge.

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Vocational Education (2007) Top of the Class Report on the inquiry into teacher education Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Nieto, S. (2004) Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education Boston MA: Allyn and Bacon

Sleeter, C., & Grant, C. (2003) Making choices for multicultural education: Five approaches to race, class, and gender. New York: Wiley.

Thomas, S and Kearney, J (2008) 'Teachers working in culturally diverse classrooms: implications for the development of professional standards and for teacher education', Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 36:2, 105 — 120.

Yeung, A.S.W. (2006) Teachers’ conceptions of borderless – a cross-cultural study on multicultural sensitivity of the Chinese teachers. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 5, 33–53.

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