A school built on metal and wood

Student Haikal Afiq (above) is trained to conduct tours for the school's heritage gallery, which has displays such as information on past principals.
Student Haikal Afiq (above) is trained to conduct tours for the school's heritage gallery, which has displays such as information on past principals.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Student Haikal Afiq is trained to conduct tours for the school's heritage gallery, which has displays such as information on past principals (above).
Student Haikal Afiq is trained to conduct tours for the school's heritage gallery, which has displays such as information on past principals (above).PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Tanjong Katong Secondary School' s new heritage gallery traces its technical roots

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."

Amelia Teng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2015, with the headline 'A school built on metal and wood'. Print Edition | Subscribe