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21 October 2008

On this day in history: First English school in South-East Asia founded, 1816

On 21st October 1816 Rev. Robert Sparke Hutchings established the Penang Free School in George Town on the island of Penang in the Malay archipelago. The island had been leased to the British East India company by the Sultan of Kedah since 1786. At the beginning of the nineteenth-century the British authorities founded schools to educate Europeans and the children of government officials.

Worried by the lack of education for orphans and the children from poor families, the chaplain to the presidency, Rev. Hutchings petitioned the authorities to establish a school. They managed to recruit a teacher, James Cox, who had previously taught in Madras. The school's first intake was twenty-five boys who not only received an education in their native tongue (and English if they so desired), but were also fed and clothed if they needed it.

Only those families that could afford it were required to pay any fees, but all the boys required a nomination to be admitted. A year later, the school was in a position to admit girls after recruiting Cox's wife as a teacher. That same year, management of the school passed to an elected Board of Directors, which actively created links between the school and the local community.