Celebrating 95 Years: ‘Constellations - Celebrating S³taRs’
We marked Serangoon Secondary School’s 95th milestone this year. The theme for our anniversary celebration is ‘Constellations: Celebrating S³taRs’, with the S³ in S³taRs representing Students, Staff and Stakeholders who make up the vibrant tapestry of the school. This theme aptly encapsulates the spirit and essence of the celebration, reflecting not only the passage of time but also the countless achievements, memories, and contributions made by our dedicated school community over nearly a century.
From its humble beginnings, the school has evolved through various phases to become the Serangoon Secondary School we know today. In the spirit of our celebration, let me take a moment to acknowledge the foundation laid by our history.
Appreciating the Past: Our Beginning, Our History
Serangoon Secondary School started out as Serangoon English School in 1928, housed in a two-storey building along Simon Road. It was then the only government co-educational school in Singapore, and it also served as a feeder school to Raffles Institution. In 1937, three more standards were added; with this, the school provided education up to Standard Eight (equivalent of present-day Secondary Three). The boys and girls who successfully completed Standard Eight went on to Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls’ School respectively, where they would sit for the School Certificate of Examinations (equivalent to the GCE O-Level examinations today). Serangoon English School remained a feeder school until the eve of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore.
During the Japanese Occupation, the school was known as the Japanese Higher Normal School. It was used to train government officials under the Japanese education system.
In 1949, the school became a full school, with its first School Certificate class offering education from Primary One to Cambridge School Certificate (GCE O-Level equivalent). In 1957, the school officially became a secondary school for the Upper Serangoon district, after ceasing primary school classes that year. In 1965, the first pre-university classes were started, and girls were admitted to these classes.
In 1967, Serangoon English School relocated to Lowland Road and was renamed as Serangoon Secondary School. In that year, the school badge was modified and the old school motto, ‘Play the Game’, was replaced with ‘Knowledge is Power’. In 1976, pre-university classes were discontinued. In 1989, the school motto was changed again to ‘Seek, Strive, Serve’.
To mark the new millennium, in 2000, the school moved to its present premises at 11 Upper Serangoon View and continues to provide a student-centric, values-driven education. In 2018, we celebrated our 90th anniversary.
Let me share a story that paints a vivid picture of a young boy’s educational journey at Serangoon English School in the 1940s. This narrative, first shared by the person himself in the year 2000, provides us with a glimpse into the past, and insights into the unique experiences of learning during a bygone era.
A retrospective glimpse – the story of a young boy’s educational journey
“In 1945-46, our daily trek to Serangoon English School was a charming journey along country lanes, passing attap villages and occasional brick and mortar bungalows. Those were carefree days filled with joy, where term examinations were minor events compared to the simple pleasures of trapping spiders, catching fighting fish, spinning tops, kicking chatek, scouting, and camping. Sports Day stood out as the pinnacle event of the year, and the rare treat of swimming at the beach or the Mount Emily swimming pool added to the excitement.
It was a time when 5 cents could buy an ice ball, never mind the hygiene. We were seldom down with the flu, though most of us were undernourished. Eggs and chicken were luxuries, and ikan bilis served as the staple protein.
School was not one long holiday either! Grades counted. A Grade I in the Senior Cambridge School Certificate examination secured admission to the Post School Certificate class to prepare for the university entrance examinations. A Grade 2 led to entry into the Teachers’ Training College, while a Grade 3 offered pathways into jobs such as clerks, the Police Force, and nursing.
By today’s standards, Serangoon English School, or SES, would be considered a neighbourhood school, with students proudly identifying as the ‘Oukang’ (Hougang) boys. In the eyes of friends from Raffles Institution, we were ‘ulu’—country bumpkins.
But what we lacked in learning opportunities, we made up for with grit and determination. Most of my classmates came from humble backgrounds. Our parents were mostly clerks, shopkeepers, farmers, mechanics, delivery boys, washer women and maidservants. Only one boy in my class went to school by car.
Our teachers, men of modest means, were kind to us in personal ways. One of my primary school teachers, Mr. Cher Poh Chia, arranged for Scott’s Emulsion cod liver oil from his provision shop to strengthen the lungs of my brothers and me. I am truly grateful to these teachers because they helped in ways that mattered.
Looking back, some of life’s tough lessons were learnt in school. Writing lines, a form of collective punishment back then, stood out as a memorable experience. On one occasion, the Literature teacher instructed us to transcribe the entire literature book line by line. That day, I went home and spent the whole afternoon and half the night copying the literature book.
Looking back on that experience, I realised the value of integrity. Despite feeling foolish compared to classmates who took shortcuts, I did not regret writing out every word. Honesty and integrity became the hallmark of Serangoon English School boys. Despite humble beginnings and limited opportunities, Serangoon English School boys believed in their potential. With honesty, integrity, and sheer grit, we measured up and held our heads high.
Our school has produced a Cabinet Minister, Mr Edmund William Barker, ambassadors, educators, doctors, businessmen, administrators, lawyers, and professionals, in various fields. Mr. Tee Tua Bah was a Commissioner of Police while Dr Wong Poh Poh was the leading scholar of climate change. On this note, I would like to pay tribute to our alumni members of the Serangoon Old Students’ Association, currently known as Serangoon Alumni who have continued to serve and contribute back to the school. I know that out there in the heartlands of Singapore, the HDB estates, there are generations of Serangoon boys and girls who are honest, hardworking, solid citizens, good fathers and mothers raising families.”
This story was first shared by Mr Ngiam Tong Dow on 25 June 2000, the day of the Millennium move to our current site at Upper Serangoon View Road. Mr. Ngiam shared: “I hope that this morning as we move to a new school in the new town of Sengkang, I have been able to convey to you the essence of the school that your parents and perhaps grandparents went to.”
Treasuring the Present: Care Our Culture & Ethos of our Teachers.
Mr. Ngiam’s insightful sharing serves as a poignant reminder that values such as honesty, integrity, grit, and determination matter. “Above all, every Serangoon boy and girl carries an eternal debt of gratitude towards our teachers and principals. Besides our parents, we are what we are today because our teachers taught us, comforted us, and loved us during our growing years.”
I share his sentiments, and this leads me to now affirm our teachers. In Singapore, the purpose of education is two-fold: Firstly, to develop the character of the child and prepare him for citizenship and the place of work. Serangoon Secondary has a dedicated school team that is committed to the cause of education. Beyond classroom teaching, teachers also help our students develop holistically through the various CCAs. CCA promotes friendships among fellow Serangoon StaRs from diverse backgrounds as they learn, play and grow together. Through CCA, our students discover their interests and talents while developing values and 21st century competencies that will prepare them for a rapidly changing world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
In Serangoon Secondary, our teachers care and “guide our children as they learn to be caring and responsible to his family, community; and understand and play their role in contributing to the future of Singapore.” [Ethos]. I am impressed by the aspirations of all our teachers and our team of executive administrative staff who continuously devote their energy and commit their time into “nurturing the whole child to be the best that he/she can be”. I salute all of you for this enthusiastic partnership in shaping Serangoon Secondary School into an institution that places a great emphasis on character building for every child.
The growth of our school depends on the development of effective classroom teachers. In nurturing the whole child, our beliefs about a teacher in the capacity as a Caring Form Teacher, a Reflective Subject Teacher, an Engaging CCA Teacher and an Ethical CCE Teacher and how the child learns, guide us to helping every child be the best that he/she can be.
- Every child has intrinsic worth; Every child can learn and achieve.
- A child learns well when there is order and discipline.
- A child’s learning should be developmentally appropriate.
- True educators believe they can make a difference to a child’s life.
Teachers in this Family work very hard for each and every child. Their commitment is integral to our school’s success and vibrancy.
Embracing the Future
Moving forward, we will continue to sharpen our professional pedagogical areas in the 5 key domains of holistic education: moral, intellectual, physical, social-emotional and the aesthetics. This will be done by supporting our teachers improve their competencies and encouraging lifelong learning through the SkillsFuture for Educators in the following areas:
(i) Developing teaching strategies that are aligned to the Singapore Teaching Practices,
(ii) Leveraging the use of Education Technology to further ignite the joy of learning for our students, and
(iii) Strengthening the Social and Emotional Learning & Enhancing Career Guidance via CCE2021.
Let us all look towards the future with excitement and aspiration. We are well placed to meet the challenges ahead of us and I am confident that our school, parents, SAC, Alumni, community, and industry partners will continue to support our work and partner with us in nurturing students to be Resilient Individuals, Passionate Learners and Active Contributors.
With a strong sense of mission, we will work with all our partners in Moulding Character, Igniting Passion and Building Community in all our Serangoon StaRs, anchoring on the School Values (Self-Directedness, Harmony, Integrity, ResilieNce and Excellence).
As we celebrate this significant milestone, we express gratitude to all who have been part of our journey.
And as we count down to our 100th year celebration, to draw upon key terms from our school’s rich history, we will Play the Game differently, enabling Knowledge is Power through applied learning opportunities for every StaR to Seek, Strive and Serve. As a school, we will give our best and more, and help every StaR be the best that they can be.
Mr Chen Fook Pang
28 April 2023