Sabah Adventist Secondary School
By Konis Gabu, and Abednigo Yau Shung Chow
Abednigo Yau Shung Chow, M.Ed. (Avondale University College, Australia), B.A. in Education and Psychology (Asia-Pacific International University [formerly Mission College], Thailand), is an author and historian from the state of Sabah, East Malaysia. His areas of expertise are British Colonial period, World War II, and Adventist history of his home state. He has authored two books, Keningau: Heritage and Legacy in the Interior Residency and Constabulary: Police Forces History of North Borneo and Sabah. He is currently working on his third book on the history of the Sabah Seventh-day Adventist Mission.
First Published: January 31, 2021
The Sabah Adventist Secondary School (Sekolah Menengah Advent Sabah) is a private Seventh-day Adventist school offering Grade 1 through high school. It is located at Batu Â½ Jalan Kiulu, Tamparuli, Sabah, Malaysia. Since its establishment in 1939, it has sought to offer physical, mental, social, and spiritual nurture via a strong academic and spiritual program.
Brief History of the Adventist Work in the Area
Seventh-day Adventist missionary work in British North Borneo (now Sabah, Malaysia) began in 1913 with the coming of branch Sabbath Schools, churches, and schools. Although numerous school buildings were located on the west coast, where there was a heavy concentration of Adventist work, there was only one mission school under the care of a Chinese mission worker in the administrative capital of Sandakan town.
Events that Led to Establishment of the School
It was not until 1933 that the British North Borneo Seventh-day Adventist Mission planned to open an Agriculture Mission Station at Tamu Darat in the district of Kota Belud on a 100-acre plot of land.1 However, the land application was denied and this prompted Pastor James Wilson Rowland, the mission director, to search for an alternative, either at Tamparuli or in Keningau in the Interior Residency.2
In 1935 the British North Borneo Chartered Company, that governed the country at the time, made a proposal for a training school after meetings were held with mission officials.3 After a wait of more than three years, the prayer for a school was answered. In February 1936, Pastor Gustavus Benson Youngberg was named mission director when the former director returned to the United States on furlough. In November of that year, Pastor Youngberg and his team searched for a suitable property for the school and chose a property of ten acres overlooking the Tamparuli River.4 Application for purchase of the land was made, but it was not until 1939 that the purchase was finally made. The training school, as it was called, began operating when the first classroom construction was completed after approval was given by Richard Francis Evans, the Resident of the West Coast Residency, on December 7, 1938.5
Early Sources of Funding or Subsidization
In May 1940, Pastor Lyman I. Bowers arrived in North Borneo from Singapore to take over as mission director for one year while Pastor Youngberg and his family went to the United States on furlough. With the training school nearing construction and classes already in session, prominent British officials who were close acquaintances of the mission workers made monetary contributions and donated building materials. John Phillips, an officer of the North Borneo Lumber Company, supplied the necessary timber, while Richard Hardwick, the inspector of Rubber Estates, donated US$600 in cash.6
Early Years and World War II
The first principal was Pastor Meman Tuan Sibadogil, a Batak missionary. When the school was finally completed, the Chartered Company Government was eager to see the progress of the training school as they knew that previous Adventist educational work had brought significant positive changes to the livelihood of the locals in terms of literacy, life skills, and health.7
Prior to the outbreak of war in the Pacific, Pastor Youngberg cut short his furlough and returned to North Borneo alone, leaving his wife and children in the United States. This was necessary due to the sudden death from malaria on June 23, 1941, of Ella Mae Chatterton Bowers,8 the wife of Lyman Bowers, who was the relief mission director while the Youngbergs were on furlough.9
Upon arrival, Youngberg was very impressed with the progress of the school; however, the December 7, 1941, attack by the Japanese Empire on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor halted this. The Japanese conquest of Asia included the eventual full occupation of North Borneo on February 1, 1942. All Europeans, including the Seventh-day Adventist mission director, were interned in Batu Lintang Camp in neighboring Sarawak throughout the war. Sadly, Pastor Youngberg did not survive the war and he died on July 17, 1944.10
During the war, the training school continued to operate after its teachers went for
in-service training at Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) to learn to speak, read, write, and sing Japanese songs.11 The progress of education was slow and many of the students left and returned home to their respective villages, leaving only a few at the school. The agriculture program went on as usual, yet much of the produce was taken by the Japanese for their own consumption, since the occupiers maintained a strong garrison on the school compound. It was not until June 10, 1945, that the Australian 9th Division under Operation Oboe 612 liberated North Borneo and fought their way until the subsequent surrender of the Japanese on August 15, 1945.
Following the cessation of hostilities, North Borneo was placed under the responsibility of the British Borneo Civil Administration Unit (BBCAU) and later the British Military Administration (BMA) on relief work for the local population. The devastation of all the towns was so severe that the country was set back to the pre-British administration with all the facilities destroyed.13 On July 15, 1946, North Borneo officially became a Crown Colony with civil rule resumed after the former Chartered Company handed over sovereignty of the territory. The renamed Sabah Training School in Tamparuli began operating in 1948, although some of the buildings were damaged during the war and required immediate repairs.14
Throughout the Crown Colony administration of North Borneo from 1946 to 1963, major changes were made to the education system in accordance with changes to the Education Amendments.15 Moreover, English continued to be the medium of instruction in the colony. By 1959, the Sabah Training School had a library and science laboratory. One notable event in March 1959 was the visit of England’s Prince Philip during his royal tour of the colonies when Sabah Training School students were among all school children invited to take part in greeting His Royal Highness at the capital and at the Colonial Exhibition at Tanjung Aru beach.16
As of 1961, secondary school students of the Form 3 class had their first Local Examination Certificate of the Junior Cambridge Examination.17 With more students attending the schools, additional teachers were needed and Adventist missionaries, most notably from the Philippines, were added to the teaching faculty. Since 1961, upper secondary classes for Forms 4 and 5 were planned and gradually added with new classrooms for these classes constructed.
On August 31, 1963, North Borneo was granted self-government and was renamed as Sabah. For a brief two weeks, the country was truly independent under its own chief minister and cabinet ministers under a full ministerial system, with the British only in charge of external affairs and defense.18 His Excellency the Governor, Sir William Goode, remained as the Queen’s representative until September 15, 1963. On September 16, 1963, Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore, and Malaya were united and became one new nation known as the Federation of Malaysia. The idea of a merger was discussed in 1961, and the end result was the signing of the Malaysia Agreement on July 9, 1963.19 The control of education and the use of English as the official language rested under the authority of the state of Sabah20 in the new federation following the Cobbold Report, Inter-Governmental Report, and 20 Points Memorandum.
From 1963 to 1966, the existence of the new nation did not sit well with its neighbors, notably the Philippines and Indonesia, with the former severing diplomatic ties and the latter launching an undeclared war known as the “Indonesian-Confrontation” by sending troops across the border. Students and youth joined the Seventh-day Adventist Medical Cadet Corps with headquarters in Tamparuli on the school campus21 and assisted the St. John Ambulance Brigade. In 1966, the Sabah Training School was renamed as Sabah Adventist Secondary School (SASS); it is known as Sekolah Menengah Advent Sabah in Malay.22
The school continued to provide education with changes made to the curriculum in the following years so it would be in line with the national education of the federation across the South China Sea in Kuala Lumpur.23 In 1970 new dormitories for both boys and girls were completed. Currently, the school operates as a half boarding school. This means about half of the average 300 students stay in the dormitories. The state government provides scholarships for tertiary education and those who finish their secondary studies take the opportunity to go to various Adventist institutions abroad.24
In 1973, the official language was changed to Malay by the passage of a bill and introduction of a new clause 11A into the state of Sabah.25 This was done due to the National Language Act 1963/1967 of the federal government. In 1976, control of state education was handed over to the federal government for the sake of national unity and the purpose of educational uniformity throughout the nation.26 This resulted in the first batch of Form 5 students from SASS sitting for the Malaysian Certificate of Education in 1980.
Impact on the Adventist Church
Sabah Adventist Secondary School in the 1980s saw notable growth, especially in its physical aspects with the expansion of newer buildings to accommodate the growing number of students, both for primary and secondary levels. As a result, classes began to double their enrollments, especially Secondary 3 to 5. In 1988, when the pre-university classes began, the SASS enrollment increased from 450 to 500. Many graduates were able to get admission to universities and other institutions of higher learning. And many of the younger pastors and teachers serving in the mission today are SASS alumni or attendees.
To this day, the school continues to train the youth of Sabah and to share the Adventist message while it practices an open system of enrollment. An average of 15 students are baptized on a yearly basis.
Gustavus Benson Youngberg (1939-1940); Meman T. Sibadogil (1941-1947); Robert Rawley Youngberg (1948-1950); Gregorio Y. Dizon (1951-1954); S. F. Chu (1955); Jorge H. Benedicto (1956-1961); Romulo E. Bartolome (1962); Jorge H. Benedicto (1963-1964); Edmund Siagian (1965-1968); Romulo E. Bartolome (August to December 1968); Charles Saimin Gaban (1969); Romulo E. Bartolome (January to March 1970, before Edmund Siagian’s arrival from PUC); Edmund Siagian (1970-1979); Wee Hun Been (1980); Konis S. Gabu (1981-1985); Donald Bangkuai (1985); Daniel W. Bagah (1986-1987); Konis S. Gabu (1987-1995); George G. Lamam (1995-1996); Daniel W. Bagah (1997-1999); Nasol Nasco Gabu (2000-2001); Jemrus Francis (2002-2004); Minson Gulongan (2005-2007); Nelton Bingku (2008-2011); Jolie Simpul (2012-2018); Melson Lukas (2019-present).27
Anol, Grundset. “Onward in North Borneo and Brunei.” Atlantic Union Gleaner, November 6, 1935.
Armstrong, V. T. “The Dusuns and the Dayaks.” ARH, January 2, 1941.
Chow, Yau Shung Abednigo. Keningau: Heritage and Legacy in the Interior Residency. Kota Kinabalu: Opus Publications, 2016.
Dennelton. “The Period Beginning of Sabah Adventist Secondary School.” The Valley of Kota Maruda, October 11, 2013.
Evans, Stephen R. Sabah (North Borneo) Under the Rising Sun Government. Kota Kinabalu: Opus Publications, 1999.
Gaban, Charles. A Brief History of the Beginning of the Seventh-day Adventist Work in Sabah. Unpublished manuscript, February 28, 2010. In the author’s private collection.
George, K. M. Historical Development of Education: Commemorative History of Sabah. Kuala Lumpur, The Sabah State Government, 1981.
Kitingan, Jeffrey G. The 20 Points: Basis for Federal-State Relations for Sabah. Kota Kinabalu, Institute of Development Studies, 1987.
“Principals of STS, SASS, TASS Chronologically.” Sabah Adventist Secondary School records, 2020.
Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and Secretary of State for the Colonies, Agreement Relating to Malaysia, London, Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, July 9, 1963.
Seventh-day Adventist Mission Schools in North Borneo, North Borneo Central Archives, Sabah State Archives, No.315.
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, “Sabah Adventist Secondary School.” Accessed July 8, 2020. https://www.adventistyearbook.org/entity?EntityID=13076.
Siagian, Edmund. My Encounter with SASS 1939-1979. Tamparuli, Joel Enterprise, 2012.
“The Duke Saw School Children.” Anak Sabah. April 1959.
Wu, C. Y. “History of the Seventh-day Adventist work in South East Asia.” The Southeast Asia Union Messenger, May-June 1988.
Seventh-day Adventist Mission Schools in North Borneo, North Borneo Central Archives (Sabah State Archives, No. 315), 22.↩
Seventh-day Adventist Land in Sandakan, North Borneo Central Archives (Sabah State Archives, No. 1349), 94.↩
Grundset Ano, “Onward in North Borneo and Brunei,” Atlantic Union Gleaner, November 6, 1935, 2.↩
Wu C. Y., “History of the Seventh-day Adventist work in South East Asia,” The Southeast Asia Union Messenger, May-June 1988, 8.↩
Seventh-day Adventist Land in Sandakan, North Borneo Central Archives (Sabah State Archives, No. 1349), 87.↩
Edmund Siagian, My Encounter with SASS 1939-1979, (Tamparuli, Joel Enterprise, 2012), 18.↩
V. T. Armstrong, “The Dusuns and the Dayaks,” ARH, January 2), 12.↩
“Ella Mae Chatterton Bowers,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, August 1, 1941, 7.↩
Report of the Death of an American Citizen, Singapore, July 31, 1941, L. I. Bowers, Secretariat Missionary File.↩
Rowena Chung, interview by Abednigo Chow, Bangkok, Thailand, November 22, 2019.↩
Edmund Siagian, My Encounter with SASS 1939-1979 (Tamparuli, Joel Enterprise, 2012), 25.↩
Abednigo Chow Yau Shung, Keningau: Heritage and Legacy in the Interior Residency (Kota Kinabalu, Opus Publications, 2016), 51.↩
Charles Gaban, A Brief History of the Beginning of the Seventh-day Adventist Work in Sabah, unpublished manuscript, February 28, 2010, 13.↩
George, K. M., Historical Development of Education: Commemorative History of Sabah, (Kuala Lumpur, The Sabah State Government, 1981), 488.↩
Newspaper, “The Duke Saw School Children,” Anak Sabah, April, 1959, 4-5.↩
Edmund Siagian, My Encounter with SASS 1939-1979, (Tamparuli, Joel Enterprise, 2012), 42.↩
Stephen R. Evans, Sabah (North Borneo) Under the Rising Sun Government, Kota Kinabalu: Opus Publications, 1999), 87.↩
Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and Secretary of State for the Colonies, Agreement Relating to Malaysia (London, Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, July 9, 1963), 3.↩
Edmund Siagian, interview by Abednigo Chow, Endmund Siagian: SASS, Tamparuli, Sabah, June 29, 2020.↩
Jeffrey G. Kitingan, The 20 Points: Basis for Federal-State Relations for Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, Institute of Development Studies, 1987, 11.↩
“Principals of STS, SASS, TASS Chronologically,” Sabah Adventist Secondary School records, 2020.↩