Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Help for schools to tell their stories

Grant, expert advice from NHB a boon to schools' bid to set up heritage galleries
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2015

A few schools tend to hog the limelight, but every school has its own story and to help them tell it now is a grant from the National Heritage Board (NHB).

The board has given more than $700,000 to 31 schools so far to help them set up permanent displays of their history, under a scheme known as the NHB Heritage Grants.

The initiative started last year with 17 schools, of which six, including Crescent Girls' School and Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary School, have completed their projects. The 14 others, which came on board this year, include Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Primary) and Xinmin Secondary School.

The 31 include all kinds of schools, from younger ones to more established premier schools.

The oldest school on the scheme is 161-year-old CHIJ Primary School (Toa Payoh) and the youngest are West Grove Primary School and Bukit Timah Primary School, which have been around for 14 years.

Some schools wanted to revamp existing heritage corners, while others did not have any at all.

The NHB said it knew of 65 schools that already had such historical displays, based on an e-mail survey done last year.

To qualify for the grant, schools have to come up with proposals detailing how their heritage corners would complement the school curriculum and encourage students to understand heritage.

They also have to show how the galleries would help students feel a sense of belonging to their school, community and nation.

Ms Asmah Alias, NHB's senior assistant director of education and community outreach, said: "Our schools mould and define us, long after our student days. Knowing their history and heritage allows us to better understand those before us.

"They instill in us a sense of community, a shared identity. A large part of a school's history is also steeped in its surroundings, and learning about the heritage of these neighbourhoods and precincts contributes to our overall understanding of the Singapore story."

The NHB, which is assessing more applications from schools, said it was "very heartened" by the response to the programme.

It supports the schools by giving input in curatorial, design and logistical matters. It also provides them with funding of up to $50,000 or half of the total project costs.

The programme also provides resources to train interested students in conducting tours.

Principals said students take an active role in setting up and giving tours of these new galleries.

At Tanjong Katong Secondary School, for instance, a group of Secondary 3 students spent about two weeks this year plowing through old school yearbooks and magazines to put up a multimedia section about the history of its co-curricular activities.

The school's vice-principal, Mrs Patsy Ong, said: "Most galleries are set up to inform, but here, students and staff are contributors."

The display also serves as a classroom, as the school incorporates it into history and language classes.

Mee Toh School and Henry Park Primary School have also trained a handful of pupils to lead guests through the exhibition, so that the pupils would feel a sense of belonging to their schools, and learn more about the schools' history.

Primary 5 pupil Chen Bailin, 11, said that she learnt about alumni and educators who had contributed to Mee Toh School, and how they had helped it when it faced difficulties, such as low enrolment.

Its gallery also incorporates interactive elements such as a photobooth, touchscreens and quizzes.

Principal Gau Poh Teck said: "The artefacts that the school had kept in storage for years are lifeless, but they come alive when you put them with stories of the school and people."

Preserving Crescent's proud history
School's heritage gallery showcases milestones since it opened in 1955
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2015

Mr Siow Chin Lam, 69, has spent nearly five decades in Crescent Girls' School in Tanglin, and has no regrets.

Mr Siow, who joined the school in 1966, said: "I have fond memories of Crescent, and I know every nook and cranny of the school."

The geography and English teacher retired in 2008, but signed on almost immediately after that as a contract adjunct teacher to continue teaching.

"My principal asked me if I needed a break but I wanted to continue working, as long as I have the energy," said Mr Siow.

"It's nice to be acknowledged when my ex-students come up to me in hospitals or supermarkets to greet me," he added. "Some of them even say hi on Facebook."

Mr Siow, one of Crescent Girls' longest-serving teachers, appears in an old, black-and-white photograph which is displayed along a corridor in the school that serves as its heritage gallery.

The $60,000 gallery, which was completed in September last year, features the school's milestones since it opened in 1955 as Alexandra Estate Secondary School, a co-educational school.

Eventually, the male students were transferred out, and the school adopted its current name in 1956, from a nearby estate, Prince Charles Crescent.

In 1996, the school was given autonomous status, which gave it greater freedom and funding to plan programmes for its students.

It is known for its strength in adopting information technology in classes, as one of the pioneering schools in 2007 under the Ministry of Education's Future Schools project. These schools are designated as test beds for teaching approaches that use educational technology.

Also on display in the gallery are items contributed by alumni, such as old school badges designed by staff and students in the early years, an old handwritten register of students' names and their family details that was used in the 1950s and 1960s, and awards from former school athletes.

The gallery also features photos of the school's former principals and prominent alumni, such as Ms Ho Ching, wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. She graduated from the school in 1969.

Secondary 3 student S. Darshana said the information panels on the principals struck her the most.

"Starting from Ms Evelyn Norris, Crescent's first principal, we see how the school has changed, and what the previous principals have done for it," she said.

Another Secondary 3 student, Estella Tan, said learning more about her school has given her a "stronger sense of attachment and school identity".

"My biggest memories of Crescent will be the friends I've made here and the school spirit," she said.

A school built on metal and wood
Tanjong Katong Secondary School' s new heritage gallery traces its technical roots
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2015

The school's raison d'etre was enshrined in its original name - Tanjong Katong Secondary Technical School.

It opened in 1956 as a place for boys to learn skills such as metalwork and woodwork - vital talents for a country undergoing rapid industrialisation.

In 1969, it started to take in girls, and offered subjects such as mechanics and engineering, alongside English and mathematics.

The school in Haig Road finally dropped the word "technical" from its name in 1993 and, today, it is known for its strengths in activities such as choir, military and concert band, as well as sports such as floorball and netball.

It now offers subjects in the humanities and sciences, though it still fares well in technical areas, such as design and technology. Named by the Ministry of Education as a centre of excellence for design education, it also holds workshops for teachers from other schools to share its practices.

The school now has about 80 teachers and 1,050 students, about 60 per cent of whom are boys.

Its eventful six-decade history mirrors that of Singapore, said vice-principal Patsy Ong. These snippets are documented in the school's new heritage gallery, which opened in October last year.

The gallery, which cost close to $70,000, also covers the history of Katong, where the school has its roots. Thus, its look, inspired by the shophouses and colourful ceramic tiles of the area, is Peranakan.

On display are school memorabilia, such as a copy of a handwritten testimonial that its first principal wrote for the first head prefect in 1958 and a prize baton that its band won with Tanjong Katong Girls' School in 1978. The gallery also recounts how its 23 co-curricular activities came about in a multimedia kiosk, and pays tribute to former principals such as Mr N. Vaithinathan, its first principal from 1956 to 1968, who wrote the lyrics of the school song and designed its badge and uniform.

Mrs Ong said the gallery is not only a showcase of history, but is also a "learning lab" for students. They go there to learn about types of sources such as oral history, pictorial history and artefacts.

Sec 4 student Haikal Afiq, 16, said: "It's nice to see students hanging around the gallery and reading the panels." One of the students trained to conduct tours for the gallery, Haikal said he learnt a lot about the school's history. "Heritage and culture are things young people don't really think about often. It's now all about social media," he said.

"But it's important to understand our past, because then we know where we came from."

When bronze bells used to ring at Henry Park
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2015

During a fire drill, a bell would ring loud and clear through the school. However, it was not a fire alarm played through a modern public address system.

Instead, in the 1980s, school attendants would walk the grounds at Henry Park Primary School ringing bronze bells, calling pupils and teachers to assemble in the school grounds.

Up till the 1990s, these bells were used to alert children and teachers in classrooms housed in a block some distance from the school's main building.

The school has kept one of these bells and showcased this in its permanent heritage exhibition, which opened in April.

The school in Holland Grove Road, which opened in 1978 with 287 pupils and 13 teachers, now has nearly 2,000 children and 130 teachers, and is one of the more popular primary schools in the area.

Mrs Vijaya Ganesh, its vice-principal (administration), said the school was upgraded in 2012 and one of its plans was to set up a space to chronicle its past.

"If students cannot articulate where their schools come from and what programmes they have, it's a pity," she said.

The research process started three years ago with about 10 pupils and teachers unearthing information on the school's history at the National Archives office.

Families from the school's alumni association also pitched in to construct a 1.7m-tall, 1.7m-wide school badge made out of Lego bricks.

The $69,000 gallery is spread across the walls of the school and adopts the theme of a train journey in a homage to how it is situated near the old Malayan Railway line.

Primary 5 pupil Ryan Tan, 10, who has been trained to conduct tours for visitors, said: "At first I was anxious because I wasn't used to talking to a big group of people, but now I'm better."

Primary 6 pupil Benjamin Lilley said: "Some people don't like history but I like it.

"I like reading history books, especially those on war."

The 12-year-old added: "It's interesting to also know that Ulu Pandan, the area around my school, used to be swampy."

Mee Toh's rich Buddhist legacy
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2015

The facade of the heritage gallery at Mee Toh School - inspired by its shophouse front when it was located in Race Course Road - is like a doorway to the past.

Above the gallery entrance, a large black plaque hints of the school's origins - it reads Mee Toh Temple in Chinese. Mee Toh was originally meant to be a temple, next door to Leong San Temple in Race Course Road, which still exists today.

But its founder, Venerable Kong Hiap from China's Fujian province, changed his mind after seeing the need for education in the post-war years. He offered the land to set up a school instead; a groundbreaking ceremony was held in 1954.

Mee Toh moved to its current Punggol premises in 2004.

Today, it is a popular school in the estate, which has many young families. It has produced pupils with good results in the Primary School Leaving Examination, and is well-liked among parents who want their children to attend a Buddhist school.

Principal Gau Poh Teck said: "The school has 60 years of history, and we wanted to capture that by bringing artefacts to life with stories and using technology to give the gallery a contemporary feel."

The gallery, about the size of three classrooms, was completed in July last year. It cost more than $100,000 to build and furnish.

The artefacts include a grandfather clock, a bronze sculpture of the school's founder, old employment contracts and even a name card for the first principal, Mr Lim Swee Ding.

The gallery also has numerous works presented to the school by famous artists such as Chinese painter Feng Zikai, who was a good friend of the school's founder.

Children often do not enjoy studying history at first, so "we used stories - such as ones about our founder's life - to draw them in", said Mr Gau.

The school has trained 10 pupils to act as guides for visitors during tours of the centre. They include Primary 5 pupil Kiefer Ong, 11, who said: "Before, I knew only a little about our founder but, now, I know a lot more about his life and contributions to education and society."

Classmate Brina Goh, also 11, said learning how to speak to guests was nerve-racking at first. "But it has helped me build up confidence when talking to VIPs. It's also quite fun to lead people around," she said.

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