Carrying forward a compelling legacy

All along, PLMGS has upheld the importance of values such as honesty and selflessness in building a student's character, says its longest-serving principal, Mrs Winnie Tan (centre), who was at the helm from 1972 to 1997. Keen to carry on this traditi
All along, PLMGS has upheld the importance of values such as honesty and selflessness in building a student's character, says its longest-serving principal, Mrs Winnie Tan (centre), who was at the helm from 1972 to 1997. Keen to carry on this tradition are (from right) Ms Sharon Lin, who teaches at PLMGS (Primary), Mrs Quek Li Gek, the principal of PLMGS (Secondary), alumni association president Quahe-Lim Su-Lynn and her daughter Natalie, now in Sec 1 at the school.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
The school at its Boundary Road campus back in the 1930s. It became a fully girls' school in 1961, and moved to its current location in Lorong Ah Soo in 1986.
The school at its Boundary Road campus back in the 1930s. It became a fully girls' school in 1961, and moved to its current location in Lorong Ah Soo in 1986.PHOTO: PAYA LEBAR METHODIST GIRLS' SCHOOL

Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School and Montfort Secondary School are marking a special anniversary this year. As they turn 100, The Straits Times looks at their past, present and future.

Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (PLMGS) is known for the dark-blue pinafores with white belts worn by its students.

But probably few know that it started as a school for boys.

It had 24 primary school boys and three teachers in 1917 when it first opened on a 93,000 sq ft piece of land in Boundary Road.

A year later, the school, known then as Paya Lebar English School and a branch of the Anglo-Chinese School, began admitting girls. In 1961, it became a fully girls' school and took its current name. In 1986, it moved to its present-day site in Lorong Ah Soo, near Hougang.

Today, PLMGS has about 3,000 students and 250 teachers across primary and secondary levels. Prominent alumni include top civil servant Lim Siong Guan, Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong and former law minister E. W. Barker.

The school's longest-serving principal, Mrs Winnie Tan, was at the helm for 25 years, from 1972 to 1997.

Educating both students and their families

The retired 78-year-old recalled one of her challenges in the 1980s: "I fought very hard for the school to remain a girls' school."

At that time, the Education Ministry wanted it to admit boys.

"But I always remember the words of Mrs Robert Eu, one of the former principals," said Mrs Tan. "She believed that 'when you educate a boy, you educate a man. But when you educate a girl, you educate a woman and her family'."

The women in Mrs Tan's family all went to PLMGS. She studied there, as did her daughter, Mrs Anne Regina Pan, a doctor, and granddaughter, Allyson, now in Primary 3.

Another key moment in the school's history was when Mrs Tan oversaw its move to Lorong Ah Soo in 1986. With the relocation, the primary and secondary schools were created.

Alumni remember Mrs Tan fondly as the Iron Lady - but with a heart.

Mrs Quahe-Lim Su-Lynn, president of the PLMGS Alumni Association, who attended the school from 1979 to 1989, said: "Most of us remember her also as being a disciplinarian."

Mrs Tan, who taught subjects that included English and history, was particular about girls who broke school rules and lied. "If you tell me the truth and say 'I forgot my book', I will excuse you. But if you tell me a lie and say 'I lost my book', I'll give you a zero straight away," she said, emphasising the importance of building a student's character.

"We have to teach the girls to grow up in the right way, on the right path," she said.

To this end, she reinforced values such as honesty and unselfishness - which were taught to her by Mrs Chew Hock Hin, who was her principal when she was a student. The school considers Mrs Chew, who was in charge from 1935 to 1958, its founder. Her birthday on Oct 14 is its Founder's Day.

The school's caring spirit is seen clearly in the concern that it shows its students. Mrs Quahe-Lim, who was part of its handbells choir, said it raised funds for those who could not afford to go abroad.

"If we were short of funds, our schoolmates would all pitch in," said the 43-year-old, who works in an investment firm. Her mother and grandmother also attended PLMGS, and her daughter, Natalie, is in Secondary 1 there.

Another former student who was drawn back to the school is teacher Sharon Lin, 31, now in her eighth year at PLMGS Primary.

The English language and science teacher said: "The initial apprehension about teaching alongside my former teachers quickly faded when I realised how willing they were to help me. In a very real sense, they are my teachers for life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2016, with the headline 'Carrying forward a compelling legacy'. Print Edition | Subscribe