St. Albert's English High School (1945-1965), Maymyo, Burma. A de la Salle Brothers' old School.
The following is an unabridged version of an article by an Albertian which is slated to be published in the coming Albertian’s Magazine. The article is posted on the Website because the writer doesn’t expect it to be fully published in the Magazine unabridged for some reasons.
“MY INVINCIBLE ALMA MATER”
By-Patrick Ko Ko Gyi (Alumnus: 1950-1964 Dayscholar).
Saint Albert’s: My most unforgettable and unbeatable Alma Mater. That’s it. St. Albert’s English High School, Circular Road, Maymyo to be exact and specific. A distinguished school with a brief but distinguished career and an unrivalled reputation to match with. To call it one of the crown jewels of basic education in Burma would not be an exaggerated overstatement. That this assertion is of no empty boasting was borne out by factual evidences and opinions canvassed during its lifetime and thereafter. There never was a school like it before and there never ever will be one again. For St. Albert’s excelled not only in scholastic studies alone, it had set many illustrious records in other spheres as well. When one listens to the noisy hubbub at the yearly Matric result time over the multitude of one to six D’s, all benevolently churned out -one wonders with an amused smile while shaking one’s head disbelievingly and then with unmixed skepticism dismisses it all with a brisk wave of the hand. If “hearing” is believing, Burma is the only country in the whole world that boasts of matriculated students harvesting thousands of 1 to 5 D’s, and incredulous enough, some plucking distinctions in ALL the subjects taken! Huh! Let the brightest high school grads of First World countries eat their hearts out with jealousy for surpassing them in snatching plenty of unheard of credits. They should come here and observe their contemporaries’ methods of studying and seek the enlightened advice of our exalted tuitions.
During the 50’s and early 60’s, the then scholastic standards were unlike today’s, mighty tough and formidable, so much so that some rural towns in the central and the frontier regions of the country couldn’t even boast of a single Matriculated student at the Final Exams, not to mention of acquiring any distinction. Distinctions even for single subjects in that era were well nigh impossible, like the rarest of gems-very hard to come by and very few and far between. An occasional D student of St. Albert’s was so exceptionally brilliant that he was as savvy and as conversant as the teacher himself, capable of pointing out the master’s inadvertent mistakes on the blackboard.
However, today’s multiple-D kids’ proficiency levels are sorely assessed and unceremoniously deflated during face to face encounter with GCE “O” level exams at the British Council. All told, they have a hard time comprehending the questions posed, let alone getting over the hurdle at the first attempt. Additional 1 to 2 years of tuition taking and hard studying is mandatory for those kids who want to hold GCE certificates to go abroad and carry on with their studies. It does sound absurd and preposterous when one compares and contrasts it with the achievements of some of the bright 8th graders of St. Albert’s (Mr. Dawood Ginwallah and contemporaries.) These students through self-studying alone passed the GCE “A” level exams conducted yearly at the British Council, Hill Brow, Maymyo. Amazing indeed, our students brought it off so without tuition taking, or resorting to other fraudulent tricks. Some of these bright students are still around, some dead, some holding high academic and professional positions in some foreign countries. These 8th graders’ celebrated accomplishments made St. Albert’s so famous and prominent in Burma that former Chief-of-Staff’s son Ngwe Soe, and son of the then Prime Minister, and of U Ba Swe, U Kyaw Nyein, Thakin Chan Tun and many other sons of political, military and commercial luminaries of Burma were willingly enrolled at St. Albert’s, disregarding all other fine and famous schools of Rangoon. This in itself was a fitting honor bestowed on St. Albert’s unwittingly by some of the national leaders of Burma. Was there any other means of proving our school’s magnificent scholastic career? Yes of course, there was: St. Albert’s was the ONLY SCHOOL in the whole of Burma that ever received the letter of commendation from the Education Minister Col. Hla Han in 1962, congratulating St. Albert’s for its COMPLETE and TOTAL passing of all two classes of High School Finals in the government conducted examination of that year. An en masse 100% success rate in the old system official exam of another era. The exploits of our 1950’s brilliant young 8th graders (and also of 10th graders) at the yearly GCE exams, though highly impressive and commendable were few and countable by the fingers, but the HSF 9th graders’ stupendous masterstroke of March 1962 was the real “SMASH”, the CROWNING achievement of a school’s lifetime, an academic “GRAND SLAM” staggering all other contemporaries of the day (rudely jolting their egos and credibility), the scholastic equivalent of the military’s strategic BREAKTHROUGH thrusting our School “further out afield”, deep beyond the forefront of the country’s Big League institutions, and the one that delivered into the hands of our dearest St. Albert’s, the Education Minister’s “citation for excellence in the academic field”- in other words- His Excellency’s formal attestation to our School’s “SIGNAL VICTORY”- in the nationwide government exam of that year; a victory that still remains unchallenged in Burma up to this day! (The old system questions of that govt exam were set months before the military coup of March, 1962.) I have the strongest and unequivocal conviction that not a single school in the entire country, not even the academic heavyweights of Burma like St. Paul’s, St. John’s, St. Peter’s or Methodist High School (the “Big Four”) could ever boast of a similar and comparable precedent or had ever savored such a unique and monumental “ACCLAIM” for setting the kind of matchless record St. Albert’s had set. When one views and appraises the phenomenal stroke through the context and perspective of today’s prevailing scholastic scenario: (unfocused, erratic, unpredictable, globally irrelevant and ineligible, lacking in efficacy and value but full of questionable improprieties and unbridled commercialism) - our School’s “clean sweep” of 1962 was “as amazing as it was singularly incomparable” THEN, and is even much more so TODAY, for the incredible feat is yet to be contested and duplicated again by any one of the much vaunted much advertised and overrated big tuition establishments that have sprouted up around the country like inedible wild mushrooms-(inedible because their ridiculously outrageous price tags are far beyond the capacity of the country’s poor students, who truly represent the overwhelming majority), and many other schools of the country. And this is not the end of St. Albert’s success story. Since its inauguration in 1945 up to its final year of close down in 1965, St. Albert’s had not only the largest percentage of passing students at the yearly Matric Exams in the whole of Upper Burma, but also scored the highest credit marks and distinctions in many subjects (The passing percentage figure then was extremely meagre- a paltry 2% for the whole country in 1955 so much so that one unfortunate school in Maymyo had not the luck of turning out even a single passing student out of sixty or so students that entered the Matric Exam.) The credit for the school’s successes must surely go to those great teachers like Brother Edmund (B.A, UK), Brother Henry (B.Sc, Germany), Brother Gabriel, Brother Peter, Brother Celestyn, Brother Xavier, Saya U Han Tin etc.
St. Albert’s syllabuses and its teaching patterns for all the classes were always steadfast and consistent yet flexible enough to conform to the changing times and prevailing circumstances. It was, as we remember, utterly devoid of inept and oft-repeated flip-flopping. And it’s weekly, monthly and half-yearly aptitude screening tests though tough and challenging were also invariable and uniform, never for once contradictory or inconsistent to plague the students and teachers alike.
So famous was St. Albert’s at the time that former commandant of Defense Services Academy and later the member of Council of State Col. Hkun Naung while visiting our school one day urged the students to join the DSA after finishing school. “Our Academy needs bright students from St. Albert’s. Do join us, please” he appealed. It really is tantalizing to hazard a guess as to how our country would fare under the rule led by an e`lite clique of St. Albert’s Matriculated and DSA graduated intellectual officers. It certainly would be positive and productive in many ways, that’s for sure.
And St. Albert’s never had trained and coached its pupils solely to be educated nerds and uncomprehending robots. It called for wider reference knowledge, encouraging students to take up extra-curricular readings of novels, news magazines, newspapers etc. Our library was brimming with those news and literary collections largely imported from abroad and boasted the first ever contemporary editions of Encyclopedia Britannica in Upper Burma. We had a regular library hour every week and were assigned to do précis writings of the books loaned. This laudable practice was conspicuous by its absence in other schools.
St. Albert’s not only excelled in scholastic and intellectual studies but also was highly renowned for its sports and athletic prowess as well. No school could rival us in annual Interschool Football Challenge Shield matches. We clinched the Shield consecutively for three years in a row. No badminton players, not even of Divisional class could beat the pair comprising Dicky Tong and Tommy Shwe. And Ye Tun Nwe` (son of late comedian Than Nwe`) and another player Gordon were unbeatable champion tennis players in the whole town. When it came to Interschool Debating Competitions too, St. Albert’s readily plucked up the winning Cup for two or three years in a stretch. Our victorious team was spearheaded by Austin Hla Hpay, Zaw Min, and Than Htay. Our Brothers regularly conducted internal school debates in English very often.
The days preceding Christmas just before the actual holidays were the most thrilling and joyous times for St. Albert’s students. A care free time full of colorful pageantry and sports events: the Inter House Athletic contests, the Christmas Eve concert, and the universally welcoming Christmas Tree installed in the school hall. The Tree was festooned with packaged gifts and presents and the Brother Director himself presided over picking lucky numbers. This Christmas party was exclusively confined to the kindergarten department and the happy kids were assembled in the hall together with their teachers: Ms. Jenny Hole, Ms. Almark, and the Burmese teacher Daw Tin May- all gone and departed but still remembered with great affection by their pupils. For the outdoors enthusiasts and the adventurous, the hiking, trekking and overnight camping trips organized by the School Scout Troop were usually undertaken during the Christmas Holidays. “On a wintry frosty night deep in the forest, there’s nothing like the enchantment of a blazing camp fire under a starry sky, to stir and fill the heart of a young tenderfoot scout with unbounded joy and excitement”, one Scout Master intimated. On Monday afternoons, the last periods were usually reserved for the music classes conducted at the chapel of the Boarding Department. The attending students belonged to the primary classes and the Brother Director himself led the sing-along playing the violin. These extra-curricular activities: the school debates, the sporting events, the concerts, the Christmas parties, the wilderness outdoors trips, singing classes- these were all purposefully planned to give respite to the students and to blend their lives with flavor and variety and hence ward off the monotony of interminable studying. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”-was the oft-quoted maxim of the Brothers.
Next to its top academic priority, St. Albert’s placed a very heavy emphasis on the importance of individual’s strong moral character, disciplinary standards, and the many facets of savoir-faire, so much so that it had a regular and mandatory moral instruction hour every day in all the classes. The overriding importance of moral supremacy, discipline and social etiquette in public life were particularly stressed at and assiduously inculcated in each and every student. That the Brothers truly cared and worried about the individual student’s standards of morality and discipline was evidenced by a noteworthy excerpt from an old moral book of de la Salle Brothers(circa 1920’s) . It is partially quoted here: “A civilization that places a high premium on material advancement alone or even of intellectual achievement is in danger of seriously neglecting the development of moral character, standards of discipline, physical and mental well being and those spirit of self-sacrifice and service to mankind, so essential for fostering both universal felicity and brotherhood of nations, and hence eventually to promoting World Peace.” Small wonder then, that it was by no chance coincidence or happenstance that the greatest leaders of mankind NEVER were those megalomaniacal tyrants, vainglorious generals, world class celebrities, chairmen of corporate gobbling multi-nationals, multi-billionaire magnates or not even the eminent men of history like Newton or Einstein. The real LEADERS and the real role MODELS for all time and for all ages are Great Moral Teachers: Buddha, Confucius, Jesus and Mohammed etc, whose eternal and imperishable teachings have preserved the sanity and sanctity of the human race still intact. St. Albert’s moral and disciplinary criteria for each and every student were stiff, stringent and exacting. All infringements, minor or major were resolutely dealt with, even with the threat of expulsion from school. The Inspector of Schools’ remarks on progress after one of his annual inspection rounds spoke of St. Albert’s as an exemplary school run by highly dedicated and competent Brothers and discipline abiding students. As an All Round Achieving School, St. Albert’s certainly qualified as one of the best schools in Burma, NOTHING BUT THE BEST.
Forty two years later, St. Albert’s, still projecting the image of an undefeated and dashing Hero, stubbornly refuses to die or be beaten or even to simply fade away, still is very much alive and kicking in the hearts and activities of its faithful Alumni. Even when compared and gauged by the contemporary yardstick of its own heyday, St. Albert’s was indomitable and invincible then and still is so even in this era of multiple D’s and generously inflated success figures. It is throwing the gauntlet and challenging today’s schools and tuition establishments to come forward and get into the “Ring” and break its still UNBROKEN and PEERLESS RECORD. It’s presumptuous latter day adversaries, all puffed up with ego and conceit from their yearly quantitative achievements are sure to throw in their towels sooner “calling it quits”, being roundly whipped and fagged out, probably after a few bloody rounds, no doubt. And like the “flawless ruby that refuses to sink in the boggy swamp”, even with the long passage of time (Burmese proverb), St. Albert’s still is an unvanquished reigning CHAMP in the realm of basic education, an EXCLUSIVE CLASS in its own right, a well-rounded ACME to aspiring students everywhere, an awe-inspiring PARAGON to be emulated at, a dauntless HERO still packing (by proxy of its proud and ingenious Alumni) a devastating INTELLECTUAL PUNCH, and finally, A FOREVER enduring LEGEND-forever of course, until and unless a New St. Albert’s is restored again once, when the climate is ideal and auspicious. Then only, the born-again New St. Albert’s mimicking the legendary and timeless Phoenix- with wings flapping and its beak screaming a challenge as it slowly arises out of fire and ashes to relive again its life anew-maybe some day able to overthrow the uncontested record of the Old School and forge for itself a new MYTH. Maybe, someday. With the driving and energizing sprit of St. Albert’s teaming up with updated techniques and ever new applications, who knows?
And in conclusion, when one listens to all the noisy hubbub over the multitude of D’s and 6 D’s at the yearly result time, one wonders with an amused smile while shaking one’s head disbelievingly and then with unmixed skepticism dismisses it all with a brisk wave of the hand!
“Let’s raise our glasses to celebrate the august accomplishments of our Great School!”
“Three cheers to our OLD SCHOOL!”
“Let our Light shine forever!”
Hip hip-hooray! Hip hip-hooray! Hip hip-hooray!
(Written in memory of and as an abiding tribute and salute to that Great Master: Reverend Brother Director Edmund (1950-1956) - a veritable and indefatigable teacher par excellence, strictest of disciplinarians, no other teacher so much as respected and no other person so much as dreaded- the sweaty palms and quavering knees on Report Card reading Monday mornings were eloquent enough. I remember. I remember.)
Patrick Ko Ko Gyi,
St. Albert’s English High School. (Dayscholar 1950-1964)
(a.k.a.) Dr. Soe Lwin.
No. (109), Block. (7)-Bogyoke Road,
Maymyo, B U R M A.
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