Heng Ee: A School that Practises Inclusiveness

loading Rev. Father Arthur Julien's statue in the school campus.

Father Julien.

Heng Ee owes its humble beginnings to the lifelong dedication of Rev. Father Arthur Julien. Born in Belgium in 1917, young Julien embarked on the road less taken after witnessing the hostility his father faced as a customs official.1He joined the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (M.E.P.) upon completing high school to be trained as a missionary. During the turbulent years of the Second World War, Julien, at the young age of 27, became a priest.2

After completing his missionary work in France, northern Africa, Vietnam and Italy in 1946, Father Julien went on to China and gained invaluable experiences there which altered his perception of life.3 While the Chinese language posed a huge challenge to Father Julien as a preacher, the young man soon fell in love with the language and the culture which he had once perceived as a great barrier. Not only did he begin to learn the language, but through his quest to master Chinese, Julien realised the central importance of education.

He established a school for the local community, although it later had to close down following political instability due to the increasing rivalry between the nationalists and the communists.4

After six years in China, Father Julien arrived in Penang in 1952, where he lived until his death in 2004. From his experience in China, Father Julien was inspired to set up a school in Jelutong for social outcasts and school dropouts after observing the large number of youngsters in the area who failed to receive a basic education owing to poverty. And so, the idea to establish Heng Ee was conceived.

A School for All

While many Chinese schools had prosperous supporters, Heng Ee faced funding problems. Fortunately, Father Julien received generous support from his Catholic contacts abroad, which enabled funds amounting to US$10,000 to be channelled directly from Rome.5

The school had no grounds of its own, and its premise was leased from Convent Pulau Tikus, which was then owned by the Tamil Catholic Church.6 Heng Ee Private Primary School was established in 1956,7 followed by Heng Ee Private High School the year after.

A plan for a new campus soon emerged as Father Julien’s dedication gradually earned the support of the Chinese community, which donated through fundraising  channels such as operas and musical performances.8 In 1961 Heng Ee Primary School established its new premises at Jalan Macalister – much to the relief of most of the pupils as its convenient location reduced much of their transportation woes.9 In the same year, six acres of land between Jalan Hamilton and Jalan Free School was purchased by the Roman Catholic Church for the construction of Heng Ee High School.10

Father Julien with his students.

In trying to retain its independent status for overage and poor students,11 it was not until 1967 that Heng Ee became a government-aided school. In 1969 Father Julien made another grand contribution by establishing Heng Ee Kindergarten for the provision of early childhood education. Established at Jalan Macalister, the kindergarten was subsequently relocated to Lebuh Presgrave to cater to poor children from the slum areas. Despite limited resources, the school imposed a low school fee of only RM3 per month. In 2003 the kindergarten shifted to Lintang Macallum to make way for the development of the Jelutong Expressway.12 Heng Ee had by then made its mark as a wholesome educational institution, providing pupils with all three levels of education – from kindergarten up to high school.

Towards Quality Education13

Given its legacy, Heng Ee’s vision goes beyond just education for the poor, but also embraces students from all walks of lives. This is especially true with regards to its high school.

Since the 1990s Heng Ee has experienced drastic change following the implementation of a new set of policies. Stricter regulations were enforced to safeguard discipline and diligence in learning. Later, various co-curricular activities were introduced to cultivate leadership qualities among the students.14

However, Heng Ee’s academic performance was still weak despite it gaining recognition as a powerhouse in most state-wide performing arts competitions. Thus, a new programme called “A Word, A Sentence and A Phrase A Day”, followed by after-school classes, were initiated by the teachers.

A road bearing Father Julien's name, just next to Heng Ee Secondary School.

The fruits of their labour were reaped in the 2000s when Heng Ee finally excelled in both academic and co-curricular activities. Armed with a new vision, “Local Roots, Global Outlook”, launched in conjunction with the high school’s 50th anniversary in 2007, it now aspires to meet global trends and challenges.15

With science as its main focus, the school is equipped with the necessary infrastructure and ICT facilities, such as an observatory acquired in 2011.16 The school’s efforts paid off when its Innovation Club won five gold, four silver and one bronze medals in the World Young Inventors Exhibition 2017 in KL.

Today, Heng Ee High School is one of the top schools in Penang with the highest student enrolment in the state – more than 3,000 students.17 In January 2017 a new branch was opened in Bayan Baru to cater to the south-west part of the island.18

With its legacy rooted in the humble spirit of Father Julien, Heng Ee owes all its achievements today not just to succeeding principals and teaching staff, but to their very own pioneering philosophy in embracing pupils from all backgrounds and letting them learn from one another.

2Ibid: 18.
3Ibid: 18.
4Ibid: 18.
5Recollections of Dato' Father A. Julien (1917-2004): A Lifetime of Dedication to Chinese Education (拿督余廉神父的一生, 编辑委员会编,(槟城: 恒毅中小学暨幼稚园董事会, 2005), 23.
6“Heng Ee Primary School Commences on December 26, 1956 (梹创办恒毅小学廿六日开学)”, Nanyang Siang Pau (南洋商报), December 24, 1956, P10; “The History of Penang,” in 槟城恒毅国民型华文中学 第32期,校刊毕业刊 2017, (槟城恒毅国民型华文中学出版 2017), 52.
7“Heng Ee Primary School Commence on December 26, 1956 (梹创办恒毅小学廿六日开学)”, Nanyang Siang Pau (南洋商报), December 24, 1956, P10
8“Penang Orchestra Held Voluntary Singing for Heng Ee School Which Raised More Than Seven Thousand Dollars (梹城夜莺絃樂队为恒毅学校义唱获七千余元)”, Nanyang Siang Pau (南洋商报), February 15, 1957. P9; Penang Benefit Performances Fundraising for Heng Ee School Which Amounted More Than Four Thousand Dollars. (梹华侨联谊社义演粤剧筹募恒毅学校基金门票收入计达四千余元), Nanyang Siang Pau (南洋商报), May 3, 1957. P12.
9“Heng Ee School’s New Campus Is Built to Keep Accommodating Overage Students Next Year (梹恒毅学校兴建新校舍明年继续收容超龄生)”, Nanyang Siang Pau (南洋商报), October 27, 1959. P12; “New Buildings for Primary School Section Will Be Completed in October and Heng Ee Kindergarten Will Be Launched Next Year (梹城恒毅学校小学部新校舍十月落成明年计划开办幼稚园)”, Nanyang Siang Pau (南洋商报), August 28, 1961. P13.
10“The History of Penang,” in 槟城恒毅国民型华文中学 第32期,校刊毕业刊 2017, (槟城恒毅国民型华文中学出版 2017), 52.
11“Penang Heng Ee High School Would Not Apply for Government Aid to Take Care of Overage Students (梹城恒毅学校不申请津贴以顾全超龄 生)”, Nanyang Siang Pau (南洋商报), May 20, 1959. P.11.
12Recollections of Dato' Father A. Julien (1917-2004): A Lifetime of Dedication to Chinese Education (拿督余廉神父的一生, 编辑委员会编, (槟城: 恒毅中小学暨幼稚园董事会, 2005), 36.
13Interview with Mr Goh Boon Poh, the former headmaster of Heng Ee from 2004 to 2014, January 17, 2018.
14Commemorative Publication of Retirement of School Principal, Mr Goh Boon Poh (吴文宝高级校长荣休纪念特刊), 2014, 40.
15Ibid pg. 41.
16“Heng Ee School Spends 600 Thousand for Astronomy Observatory” (购入东南亚最先进望远镜,恒毅耗资60万设天文台), Sin Chew Daily (星洲日报), 2011, http://www.sinchew.com.my/node/1244176
17“The New Heng Ee Branch is Opened, 186 New Students Go to School! (恒毅分校启用 186新生上学啦!)” Kwong Wah Yit Poh (光华日报), December 30, 2016. http://www.kwongwah.com.my/?p=247255
18The 32nd School Magazine of Heng Ee High School, Penang (槟城恒毅国民型华文中学第三十二期校刊•毕业刊), 2017, 57.
Lim Sok Swan is a research analyst at Penang Institute. Her current research focuses on cultural heritage studies.
Pan Yi Chieh is a research analyst at Penang Institute. She graduated from Taiwan National Tsing Hua University in Anthropology. She loves to explore the hidden history of Penang through documents and interviews.

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