Reminiscences of school’s longest serving headmaster

The wooden block before it was demolished.

BUILT in 1961 and completed a year later, Sekolah Sayed Othman Miri – now SK Sayed Othman – has come a long way.

The school was named in honour of local Malay leader Sayed Othman Sayed Zain, on whose land the school was built.

Sayed Othman was a trader and a religious teacher, who was actively involved in promoting the teachings of Islam in Miri around the 1920s.

When the Miri Mosque imam became ill, Sayed Othman was appointed as his successor.

In 1920, Sayed Othman set up a second mosque in Miri, which was larger than the first. He continued his work in Miri before passing away in Sibu in 1935.

Sayed Othman’s contributions to society led to the school being named after him.

It first opened in February 1962 with six classes (Primary 1 to 6). The first batch of pupils were transferred from Sekolah Anchi.

At the beginning, there were only seven teaching staff, including the headmaster.

The first headmaster was Datuk Wan Morshidi Tuanku Abdul Rahman – Sayed Othman’s grandson.

The school was declared open by an Englishman, Bernard Walter Knight, who was education officer of the Fourth Division at the time.

Since the school began operations, the number of staff and pupils has increased.

To date, SK Sayed Othman has had 19 headmasters. The management board is determined to bring the school to the next level and help the pupils achieve more.

Wan Morshidi with former SK Sayed Othman pupils Hasni Usop and Hamdani Buang (first and second right) at his open house in Miri during the recent Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Longest serving

Wan Morshidi was born in 1936. He was the school’s longest serving headmaster – 10 years, four months and 29 days.

Between 1958 and 1959, he was accepted into the then Batu Lintang Training College (BLTC) in Kuching. At that time, he used his uncle’s home address at Kampung Haji Mataim in Kuching.

Back then, according to him, there were two categories of teachers – Grade 2A and Grade 3A.

Grade 3A teachers were those with Form 3 education and below, while those with Form 5 or overseas qualifications came under Grade 2A.

“After two years at Batu Lintang, the principal asked me to serve in Miri. He said Miri needed my service and even apologised for sending me so far away.

“Little did he know I was only using my uncle’s home address in Kuching and that I was originally from Miri,” he said, smiling.

Wan Morshidi accepted the offer and taught at Sekolah Anchi for two years (1960 to 1961).

“Sekolah Anchi was too big. Each class had some 50 to 60 pupils. The school was, therefore, divided into two. SK Sayed Othman was built in 1961 to absorb the excess pupils from Sekolah Anchi.

“When SK Sayed Othman was completed in 1962, I was chosen by Miri Council and the Education Office to be its headmaster,” he recalled.

After serving more than 10 years as SK Sayed Othman headmaster, Wan Morshidi was transferred to Sibu. Subsequently, he was posted to Sarikei as district education officer, then to Subis and back to Miri as chief officer of examination before applying for early retirement.

Wan Morshidi (left) with pupils and teachers of SK Sayed Othman during the Shell Traffic Games in 1965.

Plenty to do

During his time at SK Sayed Othman, there was a lot to do with six classes and seven teachers, including himself.

“As a headmaster, I was teaching as well. After three years, two more classes were added. The number of teachers also increased.

“Some of the subjects were Bahasa Melayu, English, Islamic studies, mathematics, geography, nature study and sports – like what we are having now. Back then, if a Primary 6 pupil were not selected after the Common Entrance Exam, he or she could not go to Form 1 and would be expelled.

“So I spent most of my time teaching the pupils, holding night classes after Maghrib prayers. The school’s record was good as the pupils were very bright. I noticed most of them are now very successful, being doctors, engineers, lawyers and the people’s representatives,” said Wan Morshidi, now 81.

The Scout Team of Sayed Othman School.

Supportive parents

He remembers there were no school fees back then but when it came to the annual sports day, the school would make a collection from parents to buy uniforms for the pupils.

“The parents were very supportive, especially the Shell staff, who had children studying at Sayed Othman School at that time. The teaching materials were ordered from elsewhere.”

Sometimes, Wan Morshidi would make his own things, such as gunny sacks and brooms from coconut husks for use in the school.

“I still remember when we wanted to make tanglung (lantern), the parents themselves would help out by looking for bamboo in the forest. I really appreciate their efforts,” he added.

Acknowledging a big difference between how things were done in the past and the present time, Wan Morshidi said nowadays technology has taken over and communication is really easy and simple.

“Now, everything is so much easier and within reach, and pupils do not have to go through hard times like before.

“But with that comes the challenges of being more global in this new era.”

In June 2012, The Borneo Post reported how the school building was repeatedly attacked by termites, especially the wooden block with five classrooms – one for Primary 1 and the rest for Primary 2 pupils.

To make matters worse, on Thursday, July 28, 2016, the left leg of a then Primary 1 pupil got stuck in the rotten floorboards of her classroom.

The old wooden block was eventually demolished and replaced by a new block, which opened on June 12 this year.

SK Sayed Othman now has 29 academic and five non-academic staff members and 303 pupils.

Into its 55th anniversary this year, the school is still going strong through restorations to retain its structure.

The new concrete block that has replaced the termite-infested wooden block.

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