Kynnersley Report, 1902

Singapore Infopedia


In 1902, the Legislative Council appointed a commission to study and report on the system of English education in the Straits Settlements, especially pertaining to secondary and technical education. The resultant Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the System of English Education in the Colony, also known as the Kynnersley Report, was submitted to the Legislative Council on 6 June 1902 and some of its recommendations, such as the transfer of Raffles Institution from private to government management, were accepted and implemented.

At the Legislative Council meeting on 28 January 1902, Acting Colonial Secretary C. W. S. Kynnersley put forth a motion requesting the governor to appoint a commission to inquire and report on the system of English education in the Straits Settlements. Kynnersley said that the proposal for a commission of inquiry had been first raised by Director of Public Instruction J. B. Elcum in November 1901. The latter had asked about the government’s future policy on education following a petition by trustees of the Raffles Institution for the government to take over the school. A week earlier on 21 January 1902, Walter J. Napier, member of the Legislative Council, had drawn the Legislative Council’s attention to the state of education in Singapore, introducing a motion for the establishment of an institution of higher learning for commercial and technical education.1

Both Napier’s and Kynnersley’s motions reflected concerns of the time on the changing educational needs of the colony. In October 1901, the headmaster of Raffles Institution, R. W. Hullet, had submitted a memorandum on the improvement of education in the school. Among his key recommendations were the establishment of a high school consisting of a general department to prepare students for the Queen’s Scholarship; a technical department where students received training to be mechanical, civil or electrical engineers; and a commercial department where students were trained to be clerks for government, municipal and mercantile offices.2

Commission of inquiry
After the Legislative Council unanimously passed the motion,3 a commission was formed to study and report on the system of English education, especially pertaining to secondary and technical education. The eight-member committee comprised Kynnersley as president, Lim Boon Keng, Napier, W. Grigor Taylor, Elcum, John Anderson, H. W. Firmstone and P. J. Burgess. As part of their evidence gathering, the commission interviewed and surveyed those involved in education as well as prominent merchants and engineers in the settlements. They also visited top schools in Singapore and Penang over 10 days. The report, which was completed in April 1902, was submitted to the Legislative Council on 6 June 1902.4 Subsequently, the “Memorandum on the Cost to Government of Carrying out the Recommendations of the Education Commission” was tabled at the council meeting on 29 August 1902.5

Findings and recommendations
The areas covered in the report were wide-ranging. The following are some of the commission’s key observations and recommendations.

1. Only 15 percent of students completed the full seven-year elementary course. Owing to the great demand for clerks in the fast-growing colony, many students did not finish schooling, as they were able to secure employment easily with Standards IV and V qualifications. Employers also often did not require job seekers to complete their elementary education. Consequently, there were frequent complaints by bankers and merchants on the poor-quality clerks turned out by the schools. In addressing this issue, the commission urged employers to pay salaries that were commensurate with better education. This would induce pupils to remain in school to acquire a thorough education.6

2. The dismal state of education was partly due to the shortage of well-trained teachers. Owing to the lack of funds and the low salaries offered, schools found it difficult to recruit good teachers. The problem was exacerbated by the Education Code’s prescribed ratio of 40 students to one teacher, which the commission found unconducive for learning as most of the students came from non-English-speaking backgrounds. Furthermore, there had been no educational facility for the training of local teachers until recently when the government endorsed the establishment of a training school in Singapore for local male teachers. Until then, local teachers had been instructed through an informal pupil-teacher system. In view of the demand for women teachers for girls’ schools and in the lower classes of boys’ schools, the commission proposed establishing a similar training institute for women teachers. They also recommended to have a pay scale for government-trained teachers equivalent to that for government clerks. Additionally, they recommended that trainee teachers be paid allowances during their studies in return for bonded service to schools after graduation.7

3. Students lacked powers of observation and knowledge of current affairs, as the curriculum was limited to the syllabus as prescribed in the Education Code. While the commission recognised that a significant amount of time had to be invested in the teaching of English because it was not the mother tongue of most students, they opined that some general knowledge could be imparted during the teaching of conversational English.8

4. The commission made suggestions to revise the Education Code of 1899; in areas pertaining to the need to disburse grants according to the grades of schools; improving the quality of pupil-teachers by limiting numbers; and raising admission standards as well as changing the way that geography was being taught.9

5. The commission acknowledged that views were divided on secondary education. Hitherto, the aim of secondary education was to prepare students for the local Cambridge examinations and the coveted Queen’s Scholarship. Some circles felt that resources were being channelled to a scheme that benefited a select few to the neglect of the majority. To this end, they advocated for the Cambridge examinations to be dropped in place of local examinations that would acquire the same acceptance as the Cambridge certificates. Local diplomas would be based on subjects that were deemed useful to the colony. Proponents of this move argued that students were made to take up subjects that had little practical value to their future careers. The supplementary report by the commission highlighted some of the issues with the Cambridge-influenced syllabus. Subjects such as geography, history and natural science were British-centric and lacked local context and relevance. For instance, Malaya and Asia were excluded in the study of history, geography and natural science. On languages, only Latin, German and French were offered. Dutch, which was an important language locally at the time, was barred. The level of mathematics examinable was also thought to be too theoretical. Despite these criticisms, the commission maintained that the Cambridge examinations were still valuable because they provided a benchmark for assessing the standard of education in the colony in relation to other British colonies. A local certificate would not carry the same weight as a Cambridge certificate. They opined that the Queen’s Scholarship had been an effective incentive for raising the standard of English. Instead of abolishing the examinations, they proposed to reduce the value of the Queen’s Scholarship to an amount that would be sufficient for a university education in Dublin or Edinburgh instead of the more expensive Cambridge or Oxford. The savings could then be diverted to scholarships of lesser value in support of the study of technical and commercial subjects.10

6. Regarding the call to establish an institution for commercial education, the commission noted that the Raffles Institution, St Joseph’s School and the Anglo-Chinese School were already offering courses on shorthand, typewriting, commercial correspondence, arithmetic, geography and book-keeping. Based on enrolment rates at the time, there was insufficient demand to warrant a separate institution. The commission came to the same conclusion for technical education. They noted that there were few applicants for the industrial scholarships offered by the government, and there was already a night school that taught drawing, geometry and machine construction. The needs of each profession were also different. Engineering firms were generally satisfied to have new hires learn practical engineering through apprenticeship, though they acknowledged that a course on mensuration, elementary mechanics, the use of tools as well as mechanical and geometrical drawing would be useful. On medical education, assistant surgeons were currently being trained in Madras, India. While the commission saw the merits in setting up a local medical school or college that would produce medical officers for the newly opened native states in Malaya, they conceded that the colony was not yet ready for such an undertaking. They pointed out that the most pressing need was the training of surveyors and draftsmen for private practice. Due to increased demands from the colony and the native states, qualified surveyors had to be engaged from Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) and India. In this regard, the commission recommended that the Survey School, which was training surveyors and draughtsmen for government service, be moved to the Raffles Institution and open to all. They also recommended starting classes on drawing, geometry, mensuration as well as the use of tools and simple machines, if there was sufficient interest.11

7. On the matter concerning the transfer of management of the Raffles Institution to the government, the commission saw it as a necessary move in order for the government to carry out its plans of developing secondary commercial and technical education through the leading schools in the settlements. Trustees of the Raffles Institution had petitioned for the government to take over the school, as frequent changes to the board of trustees were unconducive for the school’s progress. The trustees also found it hard to attract qualified European teachers because they could not pay salaries and pensions that were comparable with what government teachers in Britain were receiving. If the government were to take over the Raffles Institution, it would also, by extension, control the Penang Free School. After the transfer, the commission recommended for the teaching staff in these schools to be strengthened, especially in the area of technical education, and for school facilities to be expanded to include laboratories, more playgrounds and more space for higher vocational education. Commercial and science classes should also be started in these schools.12

The Kynnersley Report formed the basis for the amendment to the Education Code of 1899. The Education Code of 1902, which was approved on 15 September 1902, went on to shape colonial education policy in Singapore until the 1920s.13

The Raffles Institution became a government school on 1 January 1903. Science classes commenced after the school was equipped with a laboratory and a science teacher. As the Penang Free School was not in favour of a change in management, the school only became a government school on 1 January 1920 under different circumstances.14

Following the commission’s recommendations, a training school for local women teachers was started at the Raffles Girls’ School. Its success saw a similar class being initiated in Penang. However, an attempt to introduce a survey class at the Raffles Institution failed.15

Another outcome of the inquiry was the introduction of formal commercial classes in the English-medium schools. Students studied shorthand, book-keeping and typewriting for two years and were then examined by the Chamber of Commerce of Singapore, which awarded the certificates.16

Gracie Lee

1. “Legislative Council. Tuesday, 21st January,” Straits Times, 22 January 1902, 5; “Legislative Council. Tuesday, January 28th, 1902,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 30 January 1902, 70. (From NewspaperSG)
2. C. W. S. Kynnersley, et al, Report of Commission of Enquiry into the System of English Education in the Colony (Singapore: Govt. Print. Off., 1902), 69–72 (Call no. RRARE 370.95951 STR; microfilm NL15271); “Raffles Institution Prize Distribution,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 24 December 1901, 394 (From NewspaperSG); James Stewart Nagle, Educational Needs of the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States (Baltimore: [n.p.], 1928), 73. (Call no. RCLOS 370.9595 NAG)
3. “Legislative Council. Tuesday, January 28th, 1902.”
4.  Kynnersley, et al., Report of Commission of Enquiry, 1–15; Legislative Council. Friday, June 6th, 1902,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 12 June 1902, 364. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Legislative Council. Friday, August 29th, 1902,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 4 September 1902, 151; “Education Commission Recommendations,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 4 September 1902, 145. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Kynnersley, et al., Report of Commission of Enquiry, 3–4, 10.
7. Kynnersley, et al., Report of Commission of Enquiry, 4–6, 15.
8. Kynnersley, et al., Report of Commission of Enquiry, 6.
9. Kynnersley, et al., Report of Commission of Enquiry, 6–8, 15.
10. Kynnersley, et al., Report of Commission of Enquiry, 8–10, 15–17.
11. Kynnersley, et al., Report of Commission of Enquiry, 10–12, 15.
12. Kynnersley, et al., Report of Commission of Enquiry, 12–15.
13. T. R. Doraisamy, et al. ed., 150 Years of Education in Singapore. (Singapore: TTC Publications Board, Teachers Training College, 1969), 29 (Call no. RSING 370.95957 TEA); Education Code No. 1552, Straits Settlements Government Gazette, 5 December 1902, 3169–78. (Call no. RRARE 959.51 SGG; microfilm NL1048)
14. David D. Chelliah, A History of the Educational Policy of the Straits Settlements with Recommendations for a New System Based on Vernaculars (Kuala Lumpur: Govt. Press, 1948), 48–49 (Call no. RCLOS 370.9595 CHE); Richard Winstedt, Education in Malaya (Singapore: Fraser & Neave, 1923), 19. (Call no. RRARE 370.9595 WIN; microfilm NL5380)
15. Winstedt, Education in Malaya, 20–21; H. A. Wyndham, Native Education; Ceylon, Java, Formosa, the Philippines, French Indo-China, and British Malaya (London: H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1933), 204–05. (Call no. RCLOS 371.97 WYN-[RFL]); Chelliah, History of the Educational Policy of the Straits Settlements, 111.
16. Kevin Blackburn, Education, Industrialization and the end of empire in Singapore (New York: Routledge, 2017), 22–23. (Call no. RSING 370.95957 BLA)

Further resource
Francis H.K. Wong and Gwee Yee Hean, Official Reports on Education: Straits Settlements and the Federated Malay States, 1870–1939 (Singapore: Pan Pacific Book Distributors, 1980), 36–60. (Call no. RSING 370.95957 WON)

The information in this article is valid as at 14 November2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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