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Survival-Driven Education

The 1960s were tough years for Singapore. As the people geared up for independence, critical challenges such as the lack of national unity, insufficient schools and unskilled workforce quickly became evident. Education was the way forward to ensure our survival.

Review of the Education System

A commission of inquiry was set up in 1962 to review the education system. The key findings were documented in the 1963 Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Education. The report contained recommendations to review the structure of the school system, teaching methods as well as teacher training.

054_1963 Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Education

1963 Final Report of the Commission of
Inquiry into Education.

Courtesy of National Library Board, Singapore.

 

055_The report outlines the key functions and responsibilities of the Ministry of Education

The report outlines the key functions and
responsibilities of the
Ministry of Education.
Courtesy of National Library Board, Singapore.

 

Building More Schools

As Singapore became self-governing in 1959, education and schools became crucial to the development of the new nation. The population was booming in the 1950s and 1960s.  To ensure that every child would have a place in school, one of the top priorities of the Government was to build enough schools for every child of school-going age.

School building in construction (1962)
School building in construction (1962).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Malay-medium schools like Sang Nila Utama and Tun Seri Lanang Secondary Schools were set up by the Government to provide support for Malay education
Malay-medium schools like Sang Nila Utama and Tun Seri Lanang Secondary Schools were set up by the Government to provide support for Malay education.
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Island Schools

Before the 1980s, many people lived in Singapore’s off-shore islands. To provide better education for the islanders, primary schools were built in the more populated islands such as Pulau Ubin and Tekong.  They had the same curriculum as the mainland schools. 

By the mid-1980s, many island schools closed down as more islanders moved to work and live on mainland Singapore.

Crowds at the opening of Kampong Pasir (Tekong) Malay School by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (1963)
Crowds at the opening of Kampong Pasir (Tekong) Malay School by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (1963).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

St John’s English School (c.1960s)
St John’s English School (c. 1960s).
Courtesy of Mrs Lim Siew Yong.

 

Assembly at a school on Pulau Sudong (1963)
Assembly at a school on Pulau Sudong (1963).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

School Sports Day at Pulau Seraya
School Sports Day at Pulau Seraya.
Courtesy of Mr Yahya bin Japris.

 

Teachers on a sampan
Teachers on a sampan.
Photo by Mr Hoo Tor Kwun, Courtesy of Singapore Memory Project.

 

Vacant Bin Kiang School at Pulau Ubin (1992)
Vacant Bin Kiang School at Pulau Ubin (1992).
Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

A Rugged Society

When Singapore attained independence in 1965, the Government envisioned a rugged society comprising citizens who were physically fit, tough and ready to work hard to build a nation.

Creating Shared Identity

School children holding national flags (1963)
School children holding national flags (1963).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Singapore needed to create a shared identity as a new nation. The Government began putting in place a national system of education to foster racial harmony and strengthen the ties between people.

Schools were constructed with a similar look and feel to create a common identity. Common spaces in school like halls and canteens were added to promote social interactions. Integrated schools were also created during this time, bringing students together from two or more language streams to study within one campus.

Typical design for a primary school, a compact _H_ shape building (1967)
Typical design for a primary school, a compact ‘H’ shape building (1967).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Teachers and students reading together in the school library (1960s)
Teachers and students reading together in the school library (1960s).

 

Students sitting for examinations in the school hall (1960s)
Students sitting for examinations in the school hall (1960s).

 

Students attending Silat Integrated School (1963)
Students attending Silat Integrated School (1963).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Students of Tanglin Integrated Secondary Technical School (1965)
Students of Tanglin Integrated Secondary Technical School (1965).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Teachers and students at morning assembly (1966)
Teachers and students at morning assembly (1966).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

To foster a sense of national unity, all students sing the national anthem, Majulah Singapura, raise the state flag and recite the pledge each day during morning assembly. These daily practices strengthen our national identity and nurture the Singapore spirit among students.

Students of Tampines Primary School in ethnic costumes (1964-1980)
Students of Tampines Primary School in ethnic costumes (1964 – 1980).
Tampines Primary School Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

Local folk songs like Di Tanjong Katong, Munnaeru Vaalibaa and Xiao Bai Chuan were sung in music classes to connect students with their heritage and cultural roots, as well as learn more about their peers from other ethnic groups.

Preparing a Skilled Workforce 

Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak, with Minister for Education Mr Yong Nyuk Lin during a visit to Queenstown Technical School (1962)
Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak, with Minister for Education Mr Yong Nyuk Lin during a visit to Queenstown Technical School (1962).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

Singapore’s economy grew rapidly in the 1960s but lacked a skilled workforce to meet the challenges of industrialisation. To better prepare students for the emerging industries, the Government accelerated the development of technical education and established more technical and vocational schools.

Technical education was implemented to cater to the needs of a labour-intensive economy. Technical schools were also built and workshop facilities were added to regular schools. The first technical schools, Tanjong Katong Technical School and Queenstown Technical School, were opened in 1956.

Woodwork class at Kim Seng Technical School (1966)
Woodwork class at Kim Seng Technical School (1966).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Metalwork class at Balestier Trade School (1959)
Metalwork class at Balestier Trade School (1959).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Founding of Singapore Polytechnic in 1954 that goes beyond technical education to provide vocational training
Founding of Singapore Polytechnic in 1954 that goes beyond technical education to provide vocational training.

 

Extra-Curricular Activities

The Government saw sports and games as a good way to cultivate teamwork and a healthy spirit of competition in schools. Together with clubs and uniformed groups, these Extra Curricular Activities (ECAs) were aimed at developing well-rounded students outside the classroom. In 1975, ECAs were made compulsory for all secondary school students.

A school brass band rehearsal (1967)
A school brass band rehearsal (1967).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Junior Red Cross members learning to administer first aid (1969)
Junior Red Cross members learning to administer first aid (1969).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

National Cadet Corps members on parade for Speech Day (1975)
National Cadet Corps members on parade for Speech Day (1975).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

A mass Wushu display by students (1970s)
A mass Wushu display by students (1970s).

Singapore Youth Festival

The first Singapore Youth Festival was launched on 18 July 1967. This annual event celebrates the accomplishments of students in sports, arts and music. Over the years, it has become a platform for students to showcase their artistic and musical talents.

A school band performance at the opening of the first Singapore Youth Festival (1967)
A school band performance at the opening of the first Singapore Youth Festival (1967).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

A concert band competition at the Singapore Youth Festival (1968)
A concert band competition at the Singapore Youth Festival (1968).

 

An Arts and Crafts exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall (1974)
An Arts and Crafts exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall (1974).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Dancers performing at the first Singapore Youth Festival (1967)
Dancers performing at the first Singapore Youth Festival (1967).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Mass display for the Singapore Youth Festival at the National Stadium (1975)
Mass display for the Singapore Youth Festival at the National Stadium (1975).
Singapore Tourism Board Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Physical Education 

Physical Education (PE) was added to the curriculum during this era. PE was seen as essential for developing students’ sportsmanship, teamwork and motor skills. Students also engaged in friendly competition with their peers during their school’s annual Sports Day.

Sports Day at Thomson Shin Min Public School (1966)
Sports Day at Thomson Shin Min Public School (1966).
Shin Min Public School Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Students competing in a game of tug-of-war (1960s)
Students competing in a game of tug-of-war (1960s).

 

Students doing log exercises as a team during PE lessons (1970)
Students doing log exercises as a team during PE lessons (1970).

 

Outward Bound adventure course training at Pulau Ubin Camp (1967)
Outward Bound adventure course training at Pulau Ubin Camp (1967).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Students playing basketball (1970s)
Students playing basketball (1970s).