The appointment in 1880 of a former prime minister of New Zealand to the
governorship of the Straits Settlements was the first event in an association which
brought New Zealanders in increasing numbers to Malaya and Malayan students to the
universities of New Zealand. The New Zealanders in the government services after the
war were a valued addition of men and women of character and ability, with their own
distinctive background. The author does well to describe in his opening chapters his
upbringing and career in education, including service in the air force in war time, up to
1946 when, at the age of 32 he began his Malayan career.
After a short initiation into the education system as a senior master of one of the
leading schools, he went on to headmasterships and finally to holding the post of chief
education officer in two important Malay states. Taylor also had a spell of teaching the
theory of his profession to Malay student teachers at the central training college, where
he also helped the translation bureau in producing textbooks. He saw in the first years of
independence and retired (to Western Australia) in I960.
Before the war Malaya had prospered sufficiently to develop a substantial network of
schools (and a university college), with good buildings and staff, both Malayan and
expatriate. As in other territories the Christian missions, of several nationalities, had
founded and staffed many secondary schools, but throughout Malaya there were also
government schools. The 1930’s had seen some necessary reforms - arithmetic questions
in local currency and not sterling, and so on. The education of girls had made some
progress, but lagged behind that of boys. A small student elite had pursued a university
education overseas. Then the Japanese occupation deprived a teenage generation of four
precious years of education, and Taylor arrived to join in the hard work of making good
the lost ground. It is clear from the results achieved by his classes that he was a gifted
teacher. There was also a basic change in the method of training Malayan teachers,
replacing an apprenticeship in the classroom with some supplementary weekend tuition
by full time study at teacher training colleges; initially two such colleges in the UK were
taken over exclusively for Malayan students.
There were also major problems. The communist-led rising known as the Emergency
made routine visits to outlying schools hazardous to the inspector on tour. Communal
tensions, exacerbated by the Japanese, were only gradually relieved by political
accommodation. The English language secondary schools, to which all communities sent
their children if they could, were a significant factor, as the minority who shared the
experience of education together at an impressionable age were the leaders of the future.
The success of Malaya/Malaysia since independence owes much to the foundations laid
in the schools by Taylor and his contemporaries.
The book is a valuable account, from inside the system, of how it worked in Taylor’s
time. But he was also deeply interested in the people and the society among whom he
lived, finding most Malayans in all walks of life courteous, sensible and friendly - as we
all did. He has a lot to say of the colonial service record in governing, and promoting
unity, in a country of differing cultural heritages. It is a thinking man’s book that offers
food for thought.