Malaysians petition for Sybil Kathigasu to be included in history textbooks

It's about time this World War II badass was properly introduced to students

By Verinia Khoo | Published: 5 Sep 2017

Sybil Kathigasu
Archive photo of Sybil Kathigasu

A petition has been started to get Malayan nurse Sybil Kathigasu's story added to the Malaysian education syllabus.

Sybil, who died in 1948, is widely recognised for her bravery and support of the resistance during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in the 1940s. She ran a clinic with her husband Dr Abdon Clement Kathigasu in the small town of Papan, on the outskirts of Ipoh, Perak where she provided shelter, medicine and medical services to the resistance during World War II. The couple was captured in 1943 and Sybil was tortured by Japanese soldiers, but refused to give up any information, even when her daughter was also tortured in front of her. After the war, she was awarded the George Medal for bravery, becoming the first and only Malayan woman to receive the honour.

Professor Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong of the National Professors Council said it was about time that local history textbooks included Sybil's story in its syllabus. According to News Straits Times, he said that the review of the textbooks could be done easily by researching her memoir No Dram of Mercy (RM22 at MPH).

"It's a shame that she is not mentioned in textbooks," Professor Datuk Dr Teo said. "Sybil's contribution is big and the least she deserves is an unvarnished account of her deeds."

Parent Action Group for Education chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said the "democratic" review would make history lessons less boring.

"Frankly, I think all students have had an overdose of Parameswara and the old Malay sultanate," she said. "History is not dead or stagnant. The fact that they can review Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics means that they should be doing it for this subject."

"(In this case), acknowledging Sybil in the syllabus sends a good message to students that credit will be given where it's due in Malaysia and that all races helped build the nation," Noor Azimah added. You said it!

Fun fact: Sybil is the grand-aunt of Elaine Daly, who played Sybil in an eight-part series called Apa Dosaku: The Sybil Kathigasu Story that aired on Astro's Suatu Ketika programme in 2009. Last year, Google also honoured Sybil with a Google Doodle on her 117th birthday.

Join the movement to include Sybil's history in Malaysian school textbooks by signing the petition.

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