Help for schools to tell their stories

Grant, expert advice from NHB a boon to schools' bid to set up heritage galleries

A few schools tend to hog the limelight, but every school has its own story and to help them tell it now is a grant from the National Heritage Board (NHB).

The board has given more than $700,000 to 31 schools so far to help them set up permanent displays of their history, under a scheme known as the NHB Heritage Grants.

The initiative started last year with 17 schools, of which six, including Crescent Girls' School and Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary School, have completed their projects. The 14 others, which came on board this year, include Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Primary) and Xinmin Secondary School.

The 31 include all kinds of schools, from younger ones to more established premier schools.

The oldest school on the scheme is 161-year-old CHIJ Primary School (Toa Payoh) and the youngest are West Grove Primary School and Bukit Timah Primary School, which have been around for 14 years.

Some schools wanted to revamp existing heritage corners, while others did not have any at all.

The NHB said it knew of 65 schools that already had such historical displays, based on an e-mail survey done last year.

To qualify for the grant, schools have to come up with proposals detailing how their heritage corners would complement the school curriculum and encourage students to understand heritage.

They also have to show how the galleries would help students feel a sense of belonging to their school, community and nation.

Ms Asmah Alias, NHB's senior assistant director of education and community outreach, said: "Our schools mould and define us, long after our student days. Knowing their history and heritage allows us to better understand those before us.

"They instill in us a sense of community, a shared identity. A large part of a school's history is also steeped in its surroundings, and learning about the heritage of these neighbourhoods and precincts contributes to our overall understanding of the Singapore story."

The NHB, which is assessing more applications from schools, said it was "very heartened" by the response to the programme.

It supports the schools by giving input in curatorial, design and logistical matters. It also provides them with funding of up to $50,000 or half of the total project costs.

The programme also provides resources to train interested students in conducting tours.

Principals said students take an active role in setting up and giving tours of these new galleries.

At Tanjong Katong Secondary School, for instance, a group of Secondary 3 students spent about two weeks this year plowing through old school yearbooks and magazines to put up a multimedia section about the history of its co-curricular activities.

The school's vice-principal, Mrs Patsy Ong, said: "Most galleries are set up to inform, but here, students and staff are contributors."

The display also serves as a classroom, as the school incorporates it into history and language classes.

Mee Toh School and Henry Park Primary School have also trained a handful of pupils to lead guests through the exhibition, so that the pupils would feel a sense of belonging to their schools, and learn more about the schools' history.

Primary 5 pupil Chen Bailin, 11, said that she learnt about alumni and educators who had contributed to Mee Toh School, and how they had helped it when it faced difficulties, such as low enrolment.

Its gallery also incorporates interactive elements such as a photobooth, touchscreens and quizzes.

Principal Gau Poh Teck said: "The artefacts that the school had kept in storage for years are lifeless, but they come alive when you put them with stories of the school and people."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2015, with the headline 'Help for schools to tell their stories'. Print Edition | Subscribe