Saturday, October 06, 2007

Bukit Timah Heritage Trail 10 – Growing Up in Assumption English School at Upper Bukit Timah Road (by Peter Chan)

The Assumption English School at Upper Bukit Timah Road was originally known as Boys’ Town English School, a name which carried a tag for many students including myself. To those who come from my generation or earlier, the name was synonymous with delinquents and juveniles.

Little does the public know that in 1975, the school produced one of the President Scholars for that year, and many of its students joined the National Junior College for Pre-University in 1970. Boys’ Town was the pioneer of vocational education and was the forerunner of the VITB (Vocational and Industrial Training Board) in Singapore (now ITE). Fandi Ahmad our national footballer was from Boys’ Town. It was an all-boys school - an experience matched only by solitary living in a “monastery”. If we had to think of girls, it would be those lovely Primary 5 & 6 girls from our sister school, the Chestnut Drive CHIJ School. The only opportunity we could meet was in the St Joseph Church after school and during spiritual lessons. So how did Boys’ Town come to produce different kinds of students? Let me explain.

There were 3 components for Boys Town. There was the Boys Town English School (founded in 1953) for academic studies, there was St Joseph Trade School (1938) for vocational training - carpentry, rattan weaving, tailoring, electricity, motor repairs & body shop, and metal welding, and the Boys Town Home (founded in 1948) for orphans and the socially disadvantaged. The student enrollment came mainly from the Upper Bukit Timah area – Mandai, Lim Chu Kang, Princess Elizabeth Estate, Bukit Panjang and those who were in search of a Catholic mission-based education. So the only reason I attended the school was because my late mother had visions that one day I would join the priesthood; jokes aside. The friends I knew came from a rural and “Ang Mo Choo” background.

Here are some photos of the school from my memory bank.

Picture 1: These 2 blocks were our roofs for the primary and secondary school boys. It is connected to the St Joseph Church (built in 1846) from this entrance. My classroom was the block on the right – a window at the rear of the class was what I needed most to check on the quality of the jambu and mangosteen fruits growing in the church fruit garden.

The road between the blocks was converted to open-air badminton courts with court markings. However we turned them into playing “Baloon” a game played between two teams. Outside this school gate was where most of the school-boys fights took place after school hours. A City Council power grid station was located in front of the building on the left.

Surprisingly our school did not have the flushed-water sanitary system. Rather we did not have toilets in school. Our toilets belonged to the church and were the bucket-system type. Because the school was on lower ground the toilets were on higher ground, it is never a nice sight if you understand what I am saying. These blocks are gone forever and the secondary school is housed in that sparkling grey building in the background.

Picture 2: I left school in 1966 after PSLE for a school in Bras Basah Road but I still have many fond memories of Boys Town. This is the photo of my Primary 4 teacher at Raffles City. Mr. Ang Leng Sze, himself an old boy of the school from the Class of 1956 was in the first batch of students who sat for the Senior Cambridge Exams and graduated with a Grade 1. He is seen certifying my class report card dating back to 1964. If you will notice, our report cards were made from vanguard sheet and not the hard-cover type. The report cards were printed in the St Joseph Trade School; where else do you think? Anyway a Grade 1 at Senior Cambridge Exams was never the norm for most students – Grade 3 in fact was common during my time.


Anonymous said...

There is an exhibition at China square Central where there is quite a good collection of photos of old singapore as well as past memorabilia for those interested in how it was like in the past. It is on till 7Oct

zen said...

The teacher that influences my life most is surprisingly one from my primary school. I could sense that he had a special liking for me, without showing it in the class. He would quietly inform my father (president of the parents-teachers association) all my shortcomings, and probably told him not to be too harsh on me. He would frequently pull me aside (knowing my sensitive nature) after the class was over, to correct my errors there and then, at the same time giving me a heavy dose of motivation. He was a self-made man who admired his illustrious uncle Mr Wee Kim Wee most (the former Singapore President). He also candidly showed off his PAP membership card proving that he was a pioneer member supporting the party (without fear of the education ministry). On one occasion, he was so engrossed in his teaching, while emphazing a point, he swung his arm so hard that the watch flew off hitting the wall. He married late in life. I together with a ex-classmate felt priveliged to be invited to his wedding at a restaurant in Serangoon Road.

AutoBling.Sg said...

Wow, never thought I would see something about my school! The primary school blocks were there till they were abolished in the last decade. I studied in those classrooms during my primary school years. Was there (secondary school) when they moved out for rebuilding.

As for Mr. Ang Leng Sze, he looks familiar and seem to have taught me while I was there.

Nice post!

RQ - Blog Master said...

Thanks for this wonderful account. Am sure it will strike a chord from many students who have gone through "Boys' Town" education.

And yes, good ole Ang Leng Sze.

The class of 1980s have setup a blog. Do feel free to visit it.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Ang,

It is surprise to see your blog. I am your student many years ago. You taught me art when i was in sec. You are a nice and understanding teacher. We might be very naughty but you are aways in our heart.

Thank you, teacher for your patience and guidance.


Anonymous said...

It is really heartening to note that Peter Chan has mentioned me in his blog and the response from others like Austin. I did not use to read blog and it was my daughter who came across it and informed me. May all my past pupils always be well and Happy.

Ang Leng Sze 21/3/2012.