Raffles Institution names new scholarship after ex-maths teacher

Mr Chee, who taught at RI from 1960 to 1980, inspired many of his students with his love for maths. A scholarship named after him will be awarded to six students from RI, RGS and six secondary schools in the Bishan area. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Mr Chee, who taught at RI from 1960 to 1980, inspired many of his students with his love for maths. A scholarship named after him will be awarded to six students from RI, RGS and six secondary schools in the Bishan area. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Hector Chee was known for finding new ways to teach his pet subject

Raffles Institution (RI) has named a new scholarship after a former teacher, Mr Hector Chee, whom many regard as an institution himself.

The 81-year-old, who taught mathematics at RI from 1960 to 1980, was known to many for his zeal in finding new ways to teach the subject, from sourcing for material from Britain to introducing topics such as logic into classes.

The scholarship will be offered next year to students from RI and Raffles Girls' School (Secondary), as well as those from six secondary schools in the Bishan area. These are Bishan Park Secondary, Catholic High School, Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Secondary, Guangyang Secondary, Whitley Secondary and Peirce Secondary.

To qualify for the award, which comes with $1,000 per year for study or enrichment expenses, students must be on financial assistance and do well in maths. RGS and RI students will each get $2,000 a year, to cover their higher school fees.

This is the fifth scholarship RI has named after a teacher and $150,000 has been collected for it so far. The first four were named after teachers who became principals or headmasters of the school.

For instance, the Philip Liau scholarship is awarded to a Year 4 student who has done well in his studies and art, drama or rugby.

Mr Tan Yong Soon, 59, a former student of Mr Chee and one of the three men behind the latest scholarship, said: "This is about honouring a great teacher who has been an inspiration to many."

"We also want to help students beyond RI," said Mr Tan, a former permanent secretary in the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

Six students will get the award each year. If funding permits, the group hopes to extend the scholarship to more schools.

The idea came about when Mr Tan met two ex-schoolmates, businessman Koh How Eng and engineer Wong Kai Yeng, at an alumni dinner in July. They also caught up with Mr Chee at the event.

Mr Koh, 57, said: "I remember very clearly Mr Chee's lessons on venn diagrams and logic. It fostered in many of us a love for maths and logic."

Mr Tan said: "His brilliance is in being able to grasp concepts and teach effectively."

Mr Chee experimented with a newer syllabus used in Britain known as Modern Mathematics, with topics such as set theory and venn diagrams. He taught this in two Secondary 3 classes in 1968. A few years later, it was extended to RI's Secondary 3 and 4 cohorts and other schools in Singapore.

Mr Chee said: "In those days, there were very few maths teachers. Most teachers teach for a few years before being promoted to principals. But I loved maths, and that's why I took up teaching in the first place. So I stayed in RI and taught all the way. In maths, the more you read, the more you realise you don't know. You can't teach maths by memory, you have to teach it by understanding."

In 1980, he became a specialist writer at the former Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore. He held workshops for teachers, parents and students, and was also part of a team that looked into providing good-quality teaching material for maths. He was there until he retired in 1995.

Mr Wong Siew Hoong, deputy director-general of education (curriculum), who was taught by Mr Chee in 1975, said: "I am proud to acknowledge Mr Chee as my teacher and happy to support the scholarships to be named in his honour."

Mr Chee, who lives in a Clementi maisonette with his wife and daughter, said: "I feel very happy when I come back to RI and see the old boys. They recognise me."

ateng@sph.com.sg