Malay College Kuala Kangsar: Eton of the East


The sultans of the four Federated Malay States (Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, and Pahang) led by Sultan Idris Murshidul ‘Azam Shah of Perak, had successfully convinced the British to set up a residential school for the children of the Malay elite. They had felt the need to educate their children so that they could later become efficient bureaucrats. The construction of the school, which was built on a 30-acre (1.2-hectare) site in Kuala Kangsar, the royal town of Perak, was started in 1905 and was completed four years later.

The college employed British educationists to head the college. The first was William Hargreaves, the former head of the Penang Free School, the oldest English school in Malaya. In 1905 the first batch of fifty students was enrolled. This number was gradually increased, and later was also to include children of ordinary Malay subjects who did very well in public examinations set by the government.

They were given English education following the syllabus of schools in Britain. Subjects such as British history, literature, geography, and mathematics were taught, using English as the language of instruction. Later, pure science was introduced. The students, as in English schools elsewhere in the country, were being prepared to sit for the Senior Cambridge Examination, which was endorsed and certified by Cambridge University of England. The best achievers in this examination were allowed to continue for further studies at any university in Britain.

Besides learning English subjects in the classrooms, the students were taught Western/ European etiquette and ethics, especially in the ways they dressed, ate, spoke, and spent their leisure. The first swimming pool in Perak, constructed in 1924, was built here. Other traditional British sports were also introduced here, and the students were proud to have become champions in rugby, soccer, cricket, hockey, tennis, squash, basketball, badminton, athletics, and swimming.

Enrollment in the college has always been very selective, based on academic excellence. Graduates were very often employed by the government in the Malayan, later Malaysian, Civil Service, forming the Malay bureaucratic elite. They have constituted the “Who’s Who” in Malaysia up to the present day. The Malay College, Kuala Kangsar, popularly known by its acronym MCKK, is also dubbed the “Eton of the East”.


See also: Education, Western Secular; Malayan/ Malaysian Education; Penang Free School (1816)


Khasnor Johan. 1984. The Emergence of the Modern Malay Administrative Elite. Singapore: Oxford University Press.

Loh Fook Seng, Philip. 1975. Seeds of Separatism: Educational Policy in Malaya 1874-1940. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.

Stevenson, Rex. 1975. Cultivators and Administrators: British Educational Policy towards the Malays 1875— 1906. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.


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