Singapore Government Press Release
Media Division, Ministry of Information and The Arts,
36th Storey, PSA Building, 460 Alexandra Road, Singapore 119963.
SPEECH BY DR TONY TAN KENG YAM, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, AT THE SINGAPORE CHINESE GIRLS’ SCHOOL CENTENNIAL DINNER HELD ON SATURDAY 3RD JULY 1999 AT 7.30 PM AT RAFFLES BALLROOM, WESTIN STAMFORD
Mr Cecil Wong
Chairman of the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School
Board of Directors
Miss Rosalind Heng
Principal, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would first like to thank your Principal and Board of Directors for very kindly inviting my wife and me to join you at this dinner tonight to celebrate the centenary year of the establishment of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (SCGS).
SCGS began modestly with seven girls attending class in a small shop house in Hill Street in 1899. Founded by five Straits Chinese, including Sir Song Ong Siang and Dr Lim Boon Keng, the school aimed to provide high quality education for girls, an unusual concept one hundred years ago when the future for young ladies was limited to preparation for a domestic life of marriage, child bearing and motherhood. In seeking to educate girls so that they could play a wider role in society, the Founders of SCGS were, however, careful to place equal importance on girls being accomplished in the domestic arts.
From the beginning, the Founders decreed that the curriculum of the school should include Sewing in order to "equip young girls for their future roles as wives and mothers".
SCGS was a success from the start. The enrolment went up from seven pupils to thirty pupils within two months and doubled to sixty pupils a year later. In 1908, ten years after the school was established, the enrolment averaged 200 pupils attending classes up to Standard 3.
Today, SCGS is a well-established school in Singapore with 2,100 pupils and 94 teachers teaching classes from Primary 1 to Secondary 4.
After many years at Emerald Hill, SCGS moved into its present comprehensive premises at Dunearn Road in 1994.
The growth and expansion of SCGS is testimony to the important role that the school has played in Singapore life. Recognised for its academic excellence, SCGS is also noted for being particularly strong in dance, conducting lessons in ballet and examinations for the Royal Academy of Dance within the school. In addition to winning many awards in sports and cultural activities, the school has produced many outstanding pupils who have gone on to win prestigious scholarships such as the President’s Scholarship and the Rhodes Scholarship and hold important positions in Government and the public and private sectors.
SCGS has thrived and prospered over the years because the school has kept faithfully to three fundamental values embedded in the vision of its founders:
(i) Rootedness in Asian cultures and traditions;
(ii) Openness to Western knowledge and ideas; and
(iii) Willingness to change the school’s curriculum and activities to meet the needs of the time.
Singapore is a multi-racial Asian society. The three main races living in Singapore are Chinese, Malays and Indians, which have cultures and traditions stretching back thousands of years. The Founders of SCGS were very clear in their minds that a school derives its strength and vitality by drawing on the values of the society in which it is located.
Hence, from its opening day, the curriculum of SCGS included the study of Malay and Chinese to reflect the background of the school’s pupils who came mainly from the Peranakan families living in Singapore.
However, SCGS’ Founders were also far-sighted in that they recognised that, for the pupils to have a full education to equip them for a wider role in society, they should also have access and be exposed to Western knowledge and ideas which transformed the world in the 20th century. Accordingly, they put great emphasis on the study of English going so far as to employ only English school teachers as Headmistresses until after the Second World War. Perhaps as a legacy from the strong foundation laid by the Founders of the school, SCGS today is noted for its excellent standard of English both spoken and written.
While concerned with not losing traditional strengths, SCGS Founders were also prepared to think radically and depart from conventional wisdom by advocating and making available good education for girls at a time when this was regarded as an unnecessary novelty. SCGS has continued in the pioneering spirit of innovation and has been progressive in updating its curriculum and extra-curricular activities to meet the changing needs of the school’s pupils and the society and economy in which they live. It was not surprising that SCGS was among the first group of schools to decide to adopt independent status when the option was made available to them in 1987. The school has taken advantage of its independent status to expand its curriculum and improve its management through the employment of a Bursar and a Facilities Manager. SCGS was a pioneer in many fields of ECA in Singapore, establishing the first Girl Guides company, the first Red Cross Company, Girls NCC and school gymnastic group. More recently, the school has introduced new subjects in its curriculum like computer studies, creative writing and speech and public speaking.
With such a rich history of progress behind it, SCGS could well rest on its laurels. However, SCGS should continue to push ahead to be in the forefront of schools in the 21st century. Singapore is becoming an increasingly cosmopolitan global city and students in Singapore should be familiar with the cultures of other countries and be comfortable working with people who come from different backgrounds culturally and linguistically. SCGS could lead the way in helping our students to live and work effectively in the 21st century Singapore by implementing three initiatives:
(i) Increasing the number of non-Singaporean students in the school;
(ii) Encouraging the study of languages which are important and useful to Singaporeans; and
(iii) Arranging exchanges of teachers and pupils with good "sister" schools overseas.
The primary concern of SCGS must rightly be and should continue to be, the education of Singaporean students. However, to provide a diversity which would enrich the life of the school and broaden the education of the school’s pupils, SCGS could, with the assistance of the Ministry of Education, work towards a target of having, say, 10% of the school’s enrolment comprising students from overseas.
SCGS could also encourage and give pupils the opportunity to study languages, in addition to English and the mother-tongue, which are useful and important for Singaporeans in the world today. Examples of such languages are French, German, Japanese, and possibly even Spanish which would be important if Singapore were to expand its contacts with Latin America. The study of these languages need not only be for examination but could be taken as enrichment programmes at different levels of proficiency. The choice of language would have to be based on the availability of resources and the interest of the pupils.
Finally, SCGS could improve its education by arranging for educational exchanges of its pupils and teachers with good "sister" schools in countries overseas. It is said that travel broadens the mind and a short stint abroad for its pupils would be beneficial as well as enabling the school’s teachers to get new ideas and new perspectives on education.
Let me conclude by congratulating SCGS and all those associated with the school on the tremendous progress that has been made in the last hundred years. With the able leadership of the Principal and her staff and guided by the wise deliberations of the Board of Directors, I have no doubt that SCGS will see even more glorious progress and accomplishment in the next hundred years of its existence.