Kuala Kangsar is not only famous as a Royal Town with beautiful palaces, but also renown for the presence of a well known educational institution in the country. The institution is the Malay College of Kuala Kangsar which has played an important role in producing Malay scholars to helm the country's administration.
The Malay College of Kuala Kangsar was established in 1904 when R.J. Wilkinson, the Director of Schools in the Federated Malay States wrote a letter to the Resident General and recommended the establishment of a special school (Special Residential School) in the Federated Malay States. This school was intended to provide a better modern education to the children of nobilities in the effort to train them and for them to be later absorbed into selected divisions of the British government.
Wilkinson elaborated about the need for children of nobilities to be given a better education so that when they graduate, they would be qualified to become Surveyors, Technicians, Forestry Officers, Administrators and others.This was because the education given to Malay children previously were only at the primary level.
Wilkinson's proposal was discussed at the 1904 Resident Conference and the decision to establish this school was left to Sir William H. Treacher, the Acting High Commissioner at that time. Thus, on 2 January 1905 a school was opened, known as the Malay Residential School with Mr. William Hargreaves, a former headmaster of Penang Free School as the first Headmaster. The school was built on a site granted by the late Sultan Idris in the Royal City of Kuala Kangsar. He was a Sultan who was very much concerned about the education of Malay children and who was the strongest proponent of this school's establishment.
During the three-year probationary period, this new school demonstrated favourable success and progress. William Hargreaves who taught in this school with 2 other teachers received 59 students in its initial enrolment. The following year the number of students increased to 79, mostly children of nobilities.
Despite the fact that the school building was less than perfect, the spirit shown by the students was very impressive indeed. Some of the students lived in the dormitories, rented houses and railway company quarters. Children of the nobilities and princes stayed in better rented homes with the Headmaster and other teachers. The students were given pocket-money by the government as living and school expenses.
Among the teachers who had taught at this College were Mr. William Hargreaves, Mr. Rolands and Mr. Vanreuman. In 1907 there were about 70 students who were segregated into several classes. The Headmaster, Mr. William Hargreaves taught classes 6 and 7, Mr. Roland taught classes 3, 4 and 5, while Mr. Vanreuman taught classes 1, 2 and 3. Mr. Vanreuman was later replaced by Cikgu Ab. Majid, a 1918 alumnus of this school. He was from Negeri Sembilan and had been a smart and intelligent student who graduated in a very short time.
In 1909, the main building of this school which was dubbed as the 'Big School' was completed with a range of facilities such as teachers' barracks, students' hostels, playing fields and others in a 30-40 acre area. The official opening of the new school building was made by Sultan Idris on 11 December 1909 and it was also on this day the name `Malay Residential School' was changed to the `Malay College of Kuala Kangsar' (MCKK).
The Malay College of Kuala Kangsar then grew rapidly and introduced a 'Malay Probationer' special class where the students who passed class 7 with flying colours were selected for preparation to be appointed in the Malay Administrative Service (M.A.S.). This course was for a duration of 3 years and upon completion, the M.A.S. probationary students would be appointed as M.A.S. officers for a certain period of time before being absorbed into the Malayan Civil Service (MCS).
In 1926 Kuala Kangsar was hit with severe flooding and MCKK was inundated. However, under the stewardship of Sultan Iskandar, the students were transferred to Bukit Chandan until the flood receded. During World War II, MCKK was used as the Japanese School, Gunsei Kambu Headquarters (Japanese Public Administration) and was also used as the Army Hospital.
In January 1947, MCKK was reopened with a total registration of 205 students. That concurrent year saw the promulgation of Malay nationalism, and Dato' Onn visited MCKK to inspire the students to study hard because only with education will the Malay children be able to rule the country upon independence. In fact, the UMNO party also offered scholarships to a number of MCKK students, in addition to the state and other scholarships.