Singapore Chinese Girls' School. Foreword.
There was a time in nineteenth century Singapore when the idea of sending young girls to school was hardly a noble thought. The society then was conservative. Social advancement can only come from those who were well connected with the colonial government.
It was left to men like Dr. Lim Boon Keng and Song Ong Siang, being learned in their own right, who saw fit to reform the society of Singapore as she entered the new millennium.
So when the twentieth century arrived, there was a social transformation with benign laws that gave, for example, an opportunity in education for all including young girls; the availability of medical service for the sick and infirm; the protection of workers through a comprehensive set of employment regulations.
The changing landscape of Singapore society from the old to the new proceeded in tandem with the forces of change from the world outside.
To a large measure, these forces are the work of science and technology.
Whilst we accept the basic premise that change is essential in so far as it improves the quality of our lives, we cannot reject the past as being spent and irrelevant.
It is with the past that the lessons of history are extracted. And we hope that these lessons will go a long way at serving humanity in its chosen path toward progress and civilization.
I wish those involved in the History Tangent Project well as they embarked on this very exciting assignment for their school curriculum.
Tan Tiong Hee
Settlement of Dr. Lim Boon Keng (1921)
"Our history is a tapestry woven of many bright, bold threads that have run true through the course of an entire century.”
– Ms Rosalind Heng, former Principal of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School.
A genuine, sincere statement from Singapore Chinese Girls’ School’s former Principal, Ms Rosalind Heng, truly reflects the rich history and vibrant culture of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School. Singapore Chinese Girls’ School has been shaped into continual success with top-notch education from dedicated staff and committed students; a benefit of the uncompromising conviction that Singapore Chinese Girls’ School should give its student the best and widest education possible and available to them, regardless of the many obstacles that may present themselves. Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, and its staff and students are privileged to be the product of the highest of visions by uncommon men and women; it had often cost those individuals dearly to see their vision for the success of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School come true. But for the fortunate ones who are currently in the school, who have reaped the benefits of the immense hard work that these hardworking and steadfast individuals before them have put in, it is only natural that in gratitude, an understanding in the value of their hope and a recognition in that value is achieved.
Singapore Chinese Girls’ School was the result of the vision of a group of far-sighted and highly educated Straits Chinese gentlemen, including Sir Song Ong Siang and Dr Lim Boon Keng. Singapore Chinese Girls’ School was started from humble roots, opening in July in 1899 at Hill Street with an English Headmistress and the modest number of seven girls on the register. Wanting to provide the very basics of education and skills to its students, the young girls were taught Romanized Malay, Chinese, Arithmetic, Geography, Music and sewing to prepare them for their future roles as eloquent and capable wives and mothers. In this notion, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School is unique – Girls during that time period were rarely given education, parents usually gave the opportunities for education to their sons, daughters simply learnt the skills essential to homemaking, and literally waited to be married off into a good family. For girls of that time period to be educated in a school solely for girls was something unexpected; it was even criticized and ridiculed by those who did not understand; girls were thought to be undeserving of education, in contrast to their male counterparts. However, the founders’ vision for education for girls was maintained and kept in the times that came, despite the many hardships and obstacles that came the school’s way.
The role of woman in Singapore society, along with how it evolved, is the theme for our group’s History Tangent Project. Singapore Chinese Girls’ School was one of the first few schools in Singapore which solely admitted young girls for the noble purpose of education. Many girls of that time were not given considered to be given education; it was thought that their future roles of wives and mothers did not require education; hence the tedious process of education would merely be wasted on daughters. However, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School’s founders, who are ironically Straits Chinese men (who were supposedly traditional and kept to old beliefs), thought differently. They felt that girls, regardless of their gender, needed, in basic fairness, to be given a proper education too, hence the founding of the school. In the events that followed Singapore Chinese Girls’ School’s founding, especially that of World War Two and the global feminist movement, can be reflected in the changes implemented in Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, be it in Curriculum or in Co-Curricular Activities (CCA), and also can be reflected in Singapore Chinese Girls’ School’s own girls themselves, as they undergo personal change through the changing, undetermined role of women in Singapore society at the time, in which most girls decided for their own what their fates would be, in which most of them made wise choices, hence the high rate of success amongst Singapore Chinese Girls’ School’s old girls. The success of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School today is, in an aspect, a reflection of how aptly and wisely the school responded, handled and adapted to the constantly changing role of women in Singapore society at the time, in which it was an unspoken task executed so well that it did not only guarantee the success of the school, but it also ensured the success, maturity and intellect of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School’s students.
“Those of you who are old girls will recognize some of these threads from your own time with us.”
– Ms Rosalind Heng, former Principal of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School.
Old girls of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, the ones who reaped the full benefits and advantages of the changing role of women in Singapore society in the past, owe their wondrous times of being educated, their eventual success and maturity to Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, in which the many individuals (be it a Principal, a teacher, a student, a staff member or a member of the Board of Directors), the many “bright, bold threads” that have bravely stood out in their commitment and dedication to Singapore Chinese Girls’ School in the course of the school’s history, have left their legacies imprinted in Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, awaiting continuance by the current and future generations to come, history itself in the making.
Curriculum reaped the full benefits and advantages of the changing role of women in Singapore society in the past, owe their wondrous times of being educated, their eventual success and maturity to Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, in which the many individuals (be it a Principal, a teacher, a student, a staff member or a member of the Board of Directors), the many “bright, bold threads” that have bravely stood out in their commitment and dedication to Singapore Chinese Girls’ School in the course of the school’s history, have left their legacies imprinted in Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, awaiting continuance by the current and future generations to come, history itself in the making.
At SCGS, a relaxed and well-rounded education could be sought. By artfully creating a learning environment that exposed the best in every pupil and taught every girl values they all identify with, even after many years later.
It all started in 1899, and even after reopening in 1947 after world war II, SCGS continued to nurture girls. It quickly gained a reputation as a serious school imparting quality education for girls. It made provisions for over-aged girls whose education was disrupted by the war and for quite a few years, the School had what were known as “Removed” classes for them. There was morning school and afternoon school. So, the afternoon school was a continuation school, whereas the morning school was for regular-aged girls. There was never any attempt to just have girls who were academically the top always, but a true desire to educate as many as desired to be educated.
School hours were from 7.35am to 1pm, it was not very stressful back then. Unlike today, all went home after school. Except when there were house practices and ECA.
Classes were characterized by the people who taught the lesson and the Principal of the time.
Best said by an ex-pupil of the school Yeo Lian Sim,
“ Good School, great teachers - grossly unappreciated.
Mrs Hooi made history hilarious, Mrs Choo demystified maths,
but Miss Koh made me sit in the front row … so I listened.”
In the 1940s, students were taught arithmetic, sewing, singing, art, literature, home economics, hygiene. Dance was compulsory.
From 1952 - 1956, under Mrs Tan Swee Khin. Girls remember playing netball, folk dancing, and singing a lot.
SCGS attains 100% Certificate passes. Mrs. Tan Swee Khin had never doubted the abilities of her girls, and here her point was proven. They had done her proud and achieved. As a result, SCGS’ popularity increases with more parents queuing up to enroll their daughters in SCGS. When they realise the importance of educating girls’ and seeing that possibilities it opened up. As our school vision, key changes are made to the syllabus.
The ever changing society needs its girls to be relevant. SCGS has always kept its syllabus relevant so that its girls would be forward looking and adaptable, not lack behind in society.
The new sports uniform is introduced
The girls were being introduced to new physical activities. This was a big change in the girls’ syllabus from before, when the girls’ syllabus were limited to only books, cooking and learning house work. They were now being exposed to new activities, as few girls did physical work, like sport, before. This was a big shift in society too as the importance and role of women and girls have changed from just maids/housewives to a possible asset to Singapore’s society,
Girls go on excursions. singing, art, literature, home economics, hygiene. Dance was compulsory.
Principal wanted SCGS girls to be exposed to the world they live in, instead of being just confined to her school and friends. The girls were also taught to look at the world at different points of view here, and not to be too narrow-minded. In the new society, Singapore was westernizing and hence girls had to keep up with the change. Before girls were not allowed to interact with the world outside, this was the men’s job, but now after the war people realized that girls could work and learn as well as men, hence importance of the role of women greatly increased.
SCGS girls were praised to have sung with the clearest, purest enunciation of English.
SCGS knew that it needed its girls to speak well. Even then, girls learnt literature at an early age. Even now, SCGS makes literature compulsory for its secondary girls.
Ms Tan Sock Kern started the activity “Dancing” in SCGS.
SCGS was one of the first schools in Singapore to start a gymnastics activity in 1963. The government built a gymnasium in SCGS as it was compulsory for the teachers of our school to learn gymnastics. The teachers would then, in turn, teach the students gymnastics.
1961-1962: primary 1 and 2 - singing, art, literature, home economics, hygiene. Dance was compulsory.Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Music (singing), malay or chinese, English and hygiene-- Neatness, tidiness, clean uniform, clean nails, clean and neatly combed hair, good personal hygiene. PE -- dancing, netball
At SCGS Pri. many learned cross stitch, different embroidery styles, knitting and crocheting
Literature lessons under the shade of the big tree in the back compound on the days when it was hot and still in the classroom.
Back then, students in between Primary 6 and Secondary 4 had to follow a certain syllabus.
However, Ms Tan Sock Kern changed the syllabus. She chose books that students enjoyed reading for teaching literature. She used different books from other schools. When she made these changes to the literature syllabus of SCGS, they didn’t bother about it.
However, it was the history syllabus they bothered about. While other schools were following the syllabus, she chose to teach the students about the history of China instead. The students really enjoyed learning about the history of China. (We remember our roots, etc.) However, they only learnt it up until Standard VII / Form 3.
After Standard VII / Form 3, the school had to follow the syllabus as they had to sit for and pass the ‘O’ Levels.
The school chose to import British books to use to teach English instead of books written by local Singaporeans, as Ms Tan believed that the British people spoke better English. (We give students the best possible education, even back then).
SCGS was the first school to come up with a Literature syllabus. All other schools in Singapore at that time did not have any syllabus to follow. Students started learning Literature from Primary 3 onwards. She implemented this in 1952, the year she became principal. But even before that, in Mrs. Geake’s time, she was always encouraging the girls of SCGS to read. Mrs. Geake would place recommended books in the library. However, there were only 6 books in the library at that time. So, students would rarely have the chance to read books. Ms Tan 5 then decided to buy more books to place in the school library and created a “library period” (a regular timeslot allocated to LOWER primary students for them to spend time reading books in the library) as the students were very enthusiastic about reading. They loved reading.
Ms Tan feels that the reason why students of SCGS are reading books so rarely nowadays is that we have 2nd language now. 2nd language “takes up so much of students’ time”.
SCGS girls were very well behaved. We had no trouble with their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
Our school has always had a very low standard of Chinese, even back in her time. A lot of girls from Chinese schools wanted to come to English schools to improve their English. SCGS started allowing transfers of students to SCGS from Chinese schools. Our Chinese standard then shot up.
By the time Ms Tan became principal, more than 80% of SCGS’ students were of “regular” age. Thus, SCGS became a regularized school. However, the stigma of afternoon school still existed. Students always thought the morning school was better than the afternoon school, even though SCGS was already fully regularized.
Events That Affected Singapore From 1945 To 1965 their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
The Impact Of Those Events On Singapore Chinese Girls’ School
August 14th, 1945 their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
After four years under harsh Japanese rule in Singapore in the light of World War Two, the Japanese surrender to Allies, marking the end of World War Two. Island-wide state of chaos, anomie and looting.
Teaching in Singapore Chinese Girls’ School was interrupted by the Japanese Occupation; and Singapore Chinese Girls’ School was terribly ravaged by World War Two and lost one important member of the Board of Directors and one of the founders of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, Sir Song Ong Siang. The harsh re-building and re-opening of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School begins, with much hardships and problems.-Between 1952-1953, a new school block was built in honor of Sir Song Ong Siang by Lady Song Ong Siang, in which Sir Song Ong Siang was one of the founders of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and a prominent member in the Board of Directors; unfortunately, he lost his life during World War Two.-“Afternoon School” was officially mentioned after a few years, for older students of Singapore Chinese Girls’ school to catch up with the work that they missed during World War Two, as education was interrupted by the Japanese Occupation.
September 5th, 1945 their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
The British return to Singapore to continue their colonial rule. Singapore was run as a Straits Settlement under the British Military Administration (BMA) for the following two years.-Under proper leadership from the British, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School gets much needed assistance in the form of permission to function again under the Grant-in-aid scheme, and eventually re-opens on October 1st, 1945 under Mrs. Molly Nunes.
The Board of Directors convenes again, in the offices of Mr. VI Evan-Wong; in which the Board consisted only of three other members besides Mrs. Nunes (the principal at the time) Dr. and Mrs. Lim Boon Keng (one of the founders of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and his wife), Mrs. Jessie Geake (a former principal of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School) and Mrs. Lee Choon Guan; all other members of the Board of Directors were absent. Mrs. Geake returns to Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, and over the next two years, with the hard work of the staff of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, the school was slowly put to rights.
A lot of rebuilding occurs in Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (as the Japanese have converted the whole upper floor). The Government (still run by the British at the time) lends Singapore Chinese Girls’ School $30,000 as a “war claim”.
1947 their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
The Executive and Legislative Councils are set up in Singapore; with the first ever Legislative Council Elections.
Severe food shortages, with record-low rice rations, causing malnutrition and disease island-wide.
March 20th, 1948
Singapore’s first limited election held. 3 out of 6 seats in the Legislative Council won by Singapore Progressive Party
June 25th, 1948
State of Emergency declared in Singapore due to rampant riots and extensive destruction.
December 1950 their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
18 people killed in the Maria Hertogh religious and racial riots.-Singapore Chinese Girls’ School was probably also affected by the Maria Hertogh religious and racial riots, as students of all races admitted into Singapore Chinese Girls’ School starting from 1947. Singapore Chinese Girls’ School had to cope with the danger presented by the Maria Hertogh religious and racial riots; the school also had to ensure that there were no internal conflicts within the school itself due to the fact that students and staff of all races and religions were in Singapore Chinese Girls’ School.
Number of seats in the Council increased to 9 in second elections.
A new syllabus arrives from the Government Department of Education.-Singapore Chinese Girls’ School does not follow the new syllabus, but rather keeps to Mrs Jessie Geake’s original syllabus, going to extents as to even wildly “modifying” the Government’s syllabus around Mrs Geake’s original syllabus; which worked immensely well for Singapore Chinese Girls’ School.
Rendel Commission appointed to make recommendations for the self-government of Singapore.
1954 their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
Singapore moves towards self-government.-Perhaps as a reflection of Singapore’s movement towards self-government, the first Singapore Guide Company and the First Singapore Brownie Pack are started, in which these two Co-Cirriculum Activities will become very prominent in Singapore Chinese Girls’ School in the years to come and remain so.
The People’s Action Party (PAP) is formed.May
Chinese students demonstrate against British government for the National Service Proposal
May 12th, 1954
12 people killed in the Hock Lee Bus Riots, let by bus workers and Chinese school students.-The Bus Riots force Singapore Chinese Girls’ School to close early.
April 2nd, 1955
In Singapore’s first Legislative Assembly elections, Labor Front political party wins the elections. David Saul Marshall becomes Chief Minister of Singapore.
1957 their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
Singapore is given permission by the British to move to self government, and does so.-In the light of Singapore’s movement towards self government, new events at the inter-school, national and international levels are organized by the eventual new government, in which Singapore Chinese Girls’ School excels in acing the challenge of competing with the other schools of Singapore, an example being Singapore Chinese Girls’ School excellence in Sport Competitions and in its uniformed groups.-Education leaps forward in Singapore Chinese Girls’ School with the addition of Science to the Secondary syllabus and Nature Studies for the Primary syllabus; perhaps as a result of new leadership in the area of education under Singapore’s new government.-As education in Singapore improved and grew under Singapore’s self governance, aesthetics and sports (in the area of Co-Curriculum Activities) are introduced and/or increased. As a result, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School’s Games Day now has some athletic events. -Singapore Chinese Girls’ School receives Grant-in-Aid for both Morning and Afternoon Schools for the Government. With the added financial aid, a new set of regulations allows all staff, not just teachers, to benefit from the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School Provident fund.
1957 their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s eventual first Prime Minister, wins a by-election seat.
The Singapore Citizenship Bill is passed.
A new education ordinance is passed, changing Singapore education significantly.-In terms of Co-Curriculum Activities, a new society is formed: the Literary, Debating and Dramatic Society (LDDS).
As sports are now given more emphasis in schools, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School runners take part in invitation races in other schools.
As a result of Singapore’s much improved education, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School obtains 100% passes in the School Certificate again.
The Common Market (EEC) is set up.
1958 their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
Singapore gains autonomy and prepares for general elections-In the light of the general elections being held in Singapore, two new Headmistresses are appointed under Ms Tan Sock Kern (the principal at the time)
Mrs. SL Ting who ran the Primary Morning School and Mrs TN Tnan who ran the Primary Afternoon school.
The People’s Action Party (PAP) wins Singapore’s first general elections, in which Lee Kuan Yew becomes Prime Minister of the self-governed Singapore.
Singapore gains an added sense of identity, with its own flag and National Anthem.
The Housing Development Board (HDB) is set up.
The State of Emergency ends in Singapore.
1960 their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
The feminist movement grows.
The face of society is changing in this aspect; women are realizing that they deserve equal opportunity and rights as men, and are ready to fight for it, hence the feminist movement and its growth. This has a big impact on Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, as more parents now accept that their daughters are worth educating (Singapore Chinese Girls’ School was criticized in its early days for educating girls, who were thought to be less deserving of education instead of boys; many problems also arose as a result of this as social norms and traditions of the time were breached and broken).-Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, perhaps as a result of the feminist movement, do very well in both the areas of academic and sports, areas once discouraged to girls as girls were thought to be poorer than boys in terms of performance in these two areas. For example, Chan Yoke Kuen has the best results among all Singapore’s girls in the School Certificate, while Ong Geok Buay is chosen to represent Singapore against the Federation in badminton.
1961 their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
The creation of Malaysia, a merger of Singapore and Malaya, is proposed by Tengku Abdul Rahman.
Perhaps as a reflection of the many organizational changes in Singapore, an organizational change occurs in Singapore Chinese Girls’ School – the time alternating sessions are introduced. Primary School 1 (always in the mornings before) operates in the afternoon, while Primary School 2 goes in the mornings. This is also another step taken by Ms Tan Sock Kern to remove the stigma attached to the previous “Afternoon School”, which taught older girls who had their education interrupted in World War 2; in which the two schools will continue to swap sessions in the upcoming years.
Singapore moves towards industrialization.
A referendum on Malaysia is held in Singapore.
Due to the many changes in the government systems, many systems are also made to Singapore itself. The government gives up its six day work week, and Saturday mornings are now for Extra Curricular Activities (ECA) for schools, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School included. New Extra Curricular Activities are introduced – Chess Club (a Co-Curricular Activity in Singapore Chinese Girls’ School today), which wins the Inter-school Girls Chess Tournament, and a camp at Pulau Ubin where girls are taught how to hike, cook and read maps.
1963-1964 their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
Federation of Malaysia, a merger of Singapore and Malaysia, is announced.-National Language (Malay) is encouraged in schools, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School included, in the light of Singapore becoming part of the Federation of Malaysia.-The Literary, Debating and Dramatic Society (LDDS) put up a “Malaysia Fashion Parade” on Malaysia Day.
Rioting on the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday
Konfrantasi, (meaning “Confrontation”) is declared by Indonesia.
Singapore separates from Malaysia on 9th August, in which it is Singapore’s National Day.
Singapore’s Parliament sits for the first time.
Objectives: their behavior outside school. Ms Tan organized a funfair (organized by teachers) and a concert for students.
To develop SCGS girls to their fullest potential through education in all aspects of their lives, i.e home, community, personal and social development, outdoor and international areas.
To inculcate in SCGS girls personal integrity of all actions, leadership by example, and a spirit of initiative and service to the community.
Guiding in SCGS:
SCGS was one of the first five schools to be registered as a unit under the Singapore Girl Guides Association. The school felt the objectives of guiding would complement the values taught to the girls by the school and their parents, and give them an education in life skills that would encourage each girl to become a responsible citizen capable of leading a useful life in society.
Setting up a unit of Girl Guides in SCGS would also promote the understanding that SCGS girls’ had of people from different races and different countries, as the movement is open to all girls without distinction of creed, race, nationality or any other circumstance, and aims to encourage international goodwill among the youth of various nations, and establish friendly relations between the girls in the different countries. This would inculcate in SCGS girls a sense of equality between the people of different races in Singapore, as they came together to participate in the various activities organized by the Association. This was especially important to teach SCGS girls as Singapore underwent a tumultuous time of racial riots and disputes. SCGS girls would thus learn to be tolerant and understanding of others, and thus learn to be global citizens with a forward-looking opinion on fostering international relations, enabling them to better serve the country in the future.
The values of Guides, especially the motto, Be Prepared, would be particularly useful to SCGS girls as they learnt to be open-minded and forward-thinking, as well as adaptable and able to move with the times.
The Guide Law,
1. A Guide is loyal and can be trusted2. A Guide is useful and helps others3. A Guide is polite, considerate and respects her elders4. A Guide is friendly and a sister to all Guides5. A Guide is kind to all living things6. A Guide is obedient7. A Guide has courage and is cheerful in all difficulties8. A Guide takes care of her own possessions and those of other people9. A Guide Is thrifty and diligent10. A Guide is self-disciplined in what she thinks, says and does
would instill in every SCGS Guide values of self-reliance, discipline, resilience and servitude to the community, modeling her into an able and useful citizen, as well as nurturing her into an elegant and refined “Kim Gek”.
Done by: would be particularly useful to SCGS girls as they learnt to be open-minded and forward-thinking, as well as adaptable and able to move with the times.
Kong Eng Hong
Mrs Julie Lee
Mrs Florence Tan